The Past: 1968
Around the country, it’s an explosive year. In Charlotte, tension simmers. But the city never erupts, and years of prosperity follow. Here, we recreate the story of 1968 through the eyes of an average Charlottean
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You work in an office for Eastern Air Lines or Celanese or
You’re in distribution or sales or research for a textile company or a loan officer for a bank. You make about $9,000 a year. That’s not bad—better than your parents did in the mill or on the farm. Much better than the national average of $7,000. And that’s why you came to Charlotte from Lincolnton or Wilson or Kannapolis or Wilkesboro. Good jobs with good pay. It’s why the city has tripled its population in 30 years. Charlotte is turning 200 years old in 1968, but it feels young.
If you own a home, you’re dealing with a tax increase—from $1.60 per $100 to $1.74. Sales tax is up too, but you probably voted for that.
You still shop at the downtown department stores sometimes. Not as much as you used to, certainly. And you sure as hell don’t stick around down there after dark.
After all, you can get most of the stuff you need at the new Woolco or Zayre or Kmart without dealing with the vagrants or the grime or the parallel parking. Once they finish the new Belk-Sears-Ivey’s center down in that cow patch off Fairview, maybe you won’t have to go downtown at all. What are they calling that place again? SouthPark?
About eight years removed from the sit-in movement that helped desegregate lunch counters, blacks and whites share lunch together at the Coffee Cup in Third Ward.
If you’re young and single and just starting out, you live in one of the new apartment complexes down South Boulevard or out Park Road. If you’re raising kids, you live in a ranch house on the east side. If you’re moving into middle management, maybe you get a nice two-story in one of the new subdivisions off Providence. If you’re hard up for cash or into the hippie lifestyle, you share an old house or apartment in Dilworth, where rent is cheap and pot is plentiful.
If you’re black, the west side is becoming your only option.
You live in a city that boasts how it desegregated restaurants with little fuss five years ago. That’s when Mayor Stan Brookshire walked into the Manger Inn on 10th Street with NAACP leader and funeral home owner Frederick Douglas Alexander and placed an order. That’s how things get done in Charlotte. The mayor and the Chamber of Commerce say “Make it so,” and it happens. It’s the same city where in 1965, bombs went off at Alexander’s and three other black leaders’ homes. But it’s also the city that voted Alexander onto the City Council that same year.In 1968, you can still get evicted from an apartment for throwing an interracial party. And the City Council won’t vote on Alexander’s motion to tear down a fence standing between the black and white sections of the city-owned Pinewood and Elmwood cemeteries. Alexander bides his time on the cemetery fence issue, waiting until one of his opponents misses a meeting with the flu. He brings the motion again. Brookshire breaks the tie, and the fence comes down.
A symbolic controversy over construction and demolition makes sense this year. It’s a time for building up and a time for tearing down. Subdivisions and retail centers in the suburbs. High-rise dorms out on the edge of town at UNC Charlotte. Down at Tryon and Second, where vacant Victorian homes and turn-of-the-century shops stand creaking and crumbling, First Union bank breaks ground on a 32-story skyscraper—the tallest yet in the state. A few blocks to the east, a new courthouse and jail rise amid empty lots, leaving little trace of the neighborhood that had a decade ago been the heart of black Charlotte.