Integration and Closing of Harding High School; Irwin Avenue Junior High
Reginald Hawkins Election Poster
Reginald Hawkins (right) with Martin Luther King Jr. at Hartley-Woods Gymnasium, Johnson C. Smith University, Charlotte, 1966.
This photo of Dorothy Counts walking calmly while white parents harass her on her first day of school in 1957 demonstrated the sentiment that led to the closure of Harding High four years later.
Backstory and Context
Dubbed as "North Carolina's most important Civil Rights activist", Reginald Hawkins may have a less recognizable name in the Civil Rights movement then powerhouses such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks, but he played an important role in the process. A significant figure in Charlotte's Civil Rights history, Hawkins is responsible for the development of an important organization, and a political history unlike many others.
With a degree from Howard University, Reginald Hawkins quickly became one of North Carolina’s most powerful activists in the turbulent days of the Civil Rights era. Often characterized as belligerent and militant, Reginald Hawkins was a strong advocate for the use of media to display to the country the social injustices that the African American community faced in North Carolina. Hawkins was known to be confrontational but nonviolent, in the same regard.
Following his education, Hawkins opened a dental facility in Charlotte. He practiced dentistry until he was drafted in the United States Army during the Korean War to serve as a dentist.
Before the war, Hawkins joined his local chapter of the NAACP. After returning home from the war, Hawkins disagreed heavily with the thoughts and ideas of the NAACP and resigned from the organization in 1958. After leaving the NAACP, Hawkins developed his own organization, Mecklenburg Organization for Political Affairs (MOPA). The Mecklenburg Organization for Political Affairs was separate from the NAACP and provided a platform for African Americans on the issue of segregation. MOPA used local activists to gain the trust of the community of Mecklenburg.
However, before the Mecklenburg Organization for Political Affairs was created, a prior event gave Hawkins the political platform he needed to evolve. Dorothy Counts was to be the first non white student to enroll in a school that had recently become non-segregated, and Hawkins assumed the role of her escort on her on her first day. This occurred prior to Little Rock, and was a local phenomenon, giving Hawkins both political and community based recognition.
Reginald Hawkins participated in the 1968 governor elections in North Carolina. Although his administration, MOPA, gained him loyal followers, the organization had also gained a number of people displeased with its actions. Ultimately losing the election to a white North Carolinian, Hawkins refused to give up his goal of obtaining office in the state. Again in 1971, Hawkins entered and lost the governor election.
Hawkins would live the rest of his life in Charlotte, North Carolina until his death in September 2007. While the actions and ideas of Reginald Hawkins did not gain the fame of other famous civil rights leaders, his legacy in North Carolina and in the Civil Rights movement was significant.