Arts & Culture

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: The Shoulders on Which We Stand

posted by Regina Johnson January 12, 2018
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Thaddeus Lincoln Tate

Thaddeus Lincoln Tate was the embodiment of the “New Negro”—a referent for a generation of black urbanites who exhibited a combination of racial pride, high achievement, a savvy and cosmopolitan worldview, and unfettered confidence in his ability to “uplift the race” at the turn of the 20th century.

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Tate had a significant hand in shaping the quality of life for black Charlotteans, and between the 1890s and 1940s, co-founded a number of businesses and institutions, including the Brevard Street Library, Grace A.M.E. Zion Church and a YMCA branch. In 2015, as part of the Trail of History project—a privately funded initiative to preserve the history of key figures who have contributed to Mecklenburg County’s development—a statue of Tate was erected near Little Sugar Creek Greenway.

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Harvey Gantt

In Harvey Gantt’s own words, “there was no wish on my part to become a pioneer.” Gantt came of age during the critical decades of the civil rights movement. In 1962, Gantt became the first African American admitted to Clemson University after nearly two years of petitioning and graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture, later receiving his master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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In 1971, Gantt and architect Jeff Huberman founded the firm Gantt Huberman Architects in Charlotte. Over the years, the firm has been responsible for a number of area landmarks, including the UNC Charlotte Center City building, ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center and the Charlotte Transportation Center, among others. By the mid-1970s, Gantt added civil servant to his resume—first as a city councilman, where he served from 1974 to 1983, and then as the first African-American mayor of Charlotte. Gantt served two terms as the city’s mayor (1983-1987) before launching unsuccessful bids for U.S. Senate seats in 1990 and 1996.

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PHOENIX - JUNE 20:  Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls celebrates winning the NBA Championship after Game Six of the 1993 NBA Finals on June 20, 1993 at th America West Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Bulls won 99-98.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1993 NBAE  (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Michael Jordan

Born in Brooklyn, NY but raised in Wilmington, NC, Michael Jordan is best known as the man behind the phrase “Be like Mike.” A college, NBA and U.S. Olympic Team basketball legend, Jordan played 15 seasons in the NBA and is member of countless sports halls of fame. Jordan lead his team, the Chicago Bulls, to six NBA championships between 1991 and 1998 with two three-peats, as well as a then-record 72 regular-season wins in the 1995–96 NBA season.

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CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 18: Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan speaks during the Charlotte Hornets Legacy Project Dedication and Jr. NBA Clinic on October 18, 2016 at Latta Park in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The recipient of hundreds of accolades—including two Olympic gold medals—Jordan is the first former player to become the majority owner of an NBA franchise. In 2006, he became part-owner of the now Charlotte Hornets, and currently serves as chairman and majority owner of the NBA team. In 2015, Jordan became the first billionaire NBA player in history and is the third-richest African-American, behind Oprah Winfrey and Robert F. Smith.

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Vi Lyles

On November 6, 2017 Vi Lyles made history by being elected as Charlotte’s first female African-American mayor. Lyles started her career as an analyst in the city’s budget department, and later became Charlotte’s Budget Director. She was assistant city manager for the city from 1996 to 2004, and during her career led the restructuring of government programs to evaluate and assess performance audits for city programs and helped create the city’s first capital budget.

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Lyles later took on leading and presenting the community safety plan and helped develop the city’s affordable housing plan and Mecklenburg County’s Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise Program for small businesses.  40 years of public service leadership in Charlotte isn’t all that Lyles is known for, she is also the owner of Vi Lyles Consulting, a firm that champions government and nonprofit organizations through strategic planning and engagement. In 2009, the Vi Lyles Young Public Administrator Award was created in her honor by the Southern Piedmont Chapter of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators. The award “recognizes energy, commitment and drive for excellence in work and community service.”

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A leader. An activist. A trailblazer. Dr. King may in fact be one of the most influential civil rights leaders of our time, a statement backed by his many achievements including, leading the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and organizing the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. But you cannot speak of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s achievements without mentioning his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the 1963 March on Washington.

Dr. King paved the way for people of color to overcome adversity and to achieve great feats that many once believed were impossible, turning the once oppressed into fearless leaders. Some of the most progressive leaders influenced by Dr. King have roots right here in the Queen City. As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we also take a look at Charlotte leaders who are blazing trails of their own and setting the foundation for others to achieve great things. These trailblazers and history makers help define the character of the city’s past and present and are the shoulders on which we stand in the 21st century.


Original story, The Shoulders on Which We Stand:Charlotte’s African-American Trailblazers and History Makers, By Dr. Brenda Tindal, Levine Museum of the New South Historian; Updated by Regina Johnson

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