West Charlotte as a historical symbol
Here, Hamlin offers some thoughts on the power of physical structures to preserve history. He believes that West Charlotte should remain standing to educate visitors about the past. West Charlotte carries symbolism in a way that a bronze plaque cannot, and Hamlin hopes that the town of Charlotte will recognize this and preserve the school.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with William Hamlin, May 29, 1998. Interview K-0169. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
PG: It’s important to have those dreams. Let me ask you just one more question. And, this has just been wonderful. I just appreciate it so much. Another thing that seems to me to be important about West Charlotte is that, here Charlotte is a city where history often doesn’t seem to matter; things get torn down. And, I think, West Charlotte, I believe, is the oldest standing high school that we’ve got in Charlotte or it’s close to being. It’s still in the same neighborhood where it was. A lot of schools aren’t like that. What do you think the significance of having an institution that’s been there?
WH: It’s important, very important to parallel in our mindset. I also understand now why some people support and further the cause of neighborhood schools. It is important to have an institution, a landmark, in your community that you can come back and say, “That’s where I went to school.” That’s really important. In some regards, that may be one of the few things that can keep memory for persons who’ve attended the school. I think the stability is really important. And I think it’s really crucial in preserving the history. You may have gone by a historical marker that may have had a significance at a given day, but it’s hard to reach it in the past at a bronze plaque. It’s difficult. But when you’ve got something physical that you can see your memory begins to go back in its recesses and pull things out.
Let me share with you--. Two weeks ago up at the Latta Plantation they had a presentation on African Americans at Latta Plantation. They had some persons who came down from Williamsburg, Virginia, that actually did a demonstration. It wasn’t so much about Latta Plantation but it was showing how slave life was depicted. I went with my daughter who will be a junior in college. She and I went up there to see it because I’m a history buff. I like to see stuff like that. We went into the house when we got there and they were cooking in the adjacent kitchen. Have you ever been to Latta Plantation?
PG: I’ve seen it. I can’t remember if I’ve been in the house or not, but I’ve been to the park.
WH: They have a--. I think that is one of the oldest structures in Mecklenberg county and its right adjacent--. They cooked in a separate house behind the place. And when I got there I could smell the hickory wood. I didn’t know what they were cooking, but just the aroma of smelling the wood burning. And then I went in and I saw what they were cooking. I toured the plantation. They had some displays. They really began to kick into my mind, “How was it really like in slavery on the Latta Plantation in that day?” I use that analogy and that example to show how important it is to have a structure. If you have a structure you have something that you can reach back to. But if you only have a plaque it’s hard to imagine what it was like. It’s hard to be challenged to go back and get the history. I think the permanency in a community is real, real important. And, I think that with West Charlotte and Northwest being in their same cities over these years has contributed tremendously to the preservation of the history of the schools.