The Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools in 1954, but it took three years for Southern states to comply-sort of. In Charlotte, dozens of black children volunteered to attend white schools but the school board rejected all but four. On Sept. 4, 1957, Dorothy Counts (Dot Counts-Scoggins today) walked down the hill to Harding High School.
Approaching a wall of screaming and spitting white students, she thought of what her father, Herman Counts, always told his family–“Hold your head high.” The wall parted to let her pass.
Woody Cooper was in the crowd. A good student, he was already accepted to The Citadel and his dad, a Charlotte policeman, told him, “Don’t get involved.” So Woody just stood and watched Dot come down the hill, walking right past him while his classmates cursed at her and called her names.
The photo that Don Sturkey took of that day for the Observer was eventually seen around the world. Over the years, when Woody looked at the picture, he realized that failing to help Dot that day was the same thing as hurling insults at her.
In 2006, after Woody’s Sunday School lesson about sins of omission, he told his class that he felt he had failed to do right by Dorothy Counts. The very next day, the Observer ran a story about Dorothy and Woody sent an e-mail to the reporter. The reporter forwarded it to Dot.
Dot and Woody, who are now friends, will be the guests of honor at the dedication of the Red Bench of Love in Charlotte’s Garden of Love and Forgiveness on June 10, 2010. We invited them to be the first to sit on this symbol from our four-year Campaign for Love & Forgiveness. We hope others will visit our Bench and Garden and take the time to find love and forgiveness in their hearts and lives as well.
To learn more go to http://www.fetzer.org/loveandforgive/blog