Since February is Black History Month, I am focusing this week’s Storied Charlotte blog post on four nonfiction books that deal with Black history in Charlotte. Each of these books has its own particular focus but taken together, they provide readers with insights into the history of Charlotte’s Black communities and draw attention to the many contributions that Black residents have made to the history of the city.
Thriving in the Shadows: The Black Experience in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County by Fannie Flono. Over the course of her long career as a reporter and editor for the Charlotte Observer, Fannie Flono often wrote articles and columns about the Black community in Charlotte. She drew on this experience when writing Thriving in the Shadows, which the Novello Festival Press published in 2006. Thriving in the Shadows is indispensable for anyone who is interested in the history of Brooklyn and Charlotte’s other Black neighborhoods. It includes more than 100 archival photographs, and it features excerpts from oral history interviews that Flono conducted with prominent members of Charlotte’s Black community.
Legacy: Three Centuries of Black History in Charlotte, North Carolina by Pamela Grundy. Community historian Pamela Grundy provides readers with a concise overview of Black history in Charlotte from the mid-1700s to the present. This book started off as seven-part series for Queen City Nerve. In 2022, Queen City Nerve published this series as a paperback and as an e-book. In her author’s note, Grundy writes, “I’ve drawn on sources that include census records, newspapers, family documents, photographs and oral history interviews to offer an overview of the lives, challenges, and accomplishments of the many generations of African Americans who have lived in the Charlotte area.”
Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975 (Second Edition) by Thomas W. Hanchett. With the publication of the first edition of Sorting Out the New South City in 1998, Thomas Hanchett established himself as a leading authority on the history of racial and economic segregation in Charlotte. In this second edition (which the University of North Carolina Press released in 2020), Hanchett provides an insightful new preface in which he examines the implications of Charlotte’s resegregation and discusses the prospects for reversing this trend.
Bertha Maxwell-Roddey: A Modern-Day Race Woman and the Power of Black Leadership by Sonya Y. Ramsey. Published by the University Press of Florida in 2022, this biography of Bertha Maxwell-Roddey covers the life and career of one of Charlotte’s leading Black educators from her days as a teacher and principal in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system in the 1960s to her career as a professor at UNC Charlotte and founder of the university’s Black Studies Program, which eventually evolved into the current Africana Studies Department. Ramsey describes this biography as “the story of the life and vision as an educational activist is not just a biography of a phenomenal woman. It represents the untold story of Black women and others who fought to turn the promises and achievements of the civil rights and feminist movements into tangible realities as they fought to make desegregation work in the quiet aftermath of the public civil rights marches and the fiery speeches of Black Power activists in the board rooms and classrooms of the desegregated south from the 1970s to the 1990s.”
These four books make it clear that the history of Charlotte’s Black communities and the history of the city are inextricably intertwined. As we celebrate Black History Month, we should remember that so many of the stories that make up Storied Charlotte are shaped in one way or another by the history of Black Charlotte.