By Elisabeth Arriero | The Charlotte Observer

Kathleen “Kat” Crosby (Charlotte Observer file photo)

Kathleen “Kat” Crosby, a civil rights pioneer in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, died last week in Houston at the age of 87. Her funeral is set for Nov. 24.

Crosby began teaching in 1946 in CMS. During her tenure, she worked closely with the system’s Head Start programs, served as principal of Billingsville Elementary and later became assistant superintendent.

Throughout, she was hailed for her successful leadership in addressing school desegregation and busing issues. She retired as superintendent in 1986 after 40 years of working in the district.

“She really loved children. She believed that every child deserved an opportunity to become the best citizen that they could be,” former school board member Sarah Stevenson said.

Stevenson also described Crosby as a fearless defender of civil rights. She recalled one year in the early 1970s when she and Crosby helped organize a celebration for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday at the convention center.

The festivities were interrupted by a bomb threat, forcing participants to evacuate, Stevenson said.

“Kat came up to me and held my hand and said, ‘Sarah, let’s sing,’ ” Stevenson said. “We led the group out of the building singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ I’ll never forget that.”

Later, when they found out there was no bomb, Crosby helped lead the group back into the building because “we were not going to be deterred,” Stevenson said.

Family friend David Belton said that while Crosby was a woman of strong conviction, she also was “down home and comical.”

When people would ask her for advice on which particular decision was the right one, she would always respond, “You know how to do,” Belton recalled with a laugh.

“She was somebody who could be trusted to tell you the truth,” Belton said. “ I think that’s what a lot of kids saw in her, too, and that’s why they just gravitated towards her.”

Belton also said that Crosby almost had a childlike optimism throughout her life. For instance, she frequently sang nursery rhymes about respecting other people and following your heart.

Working together

She also frequently emphasized the importance of working together to solve common problems, said Willie Ratchford, executive director for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee.

“She was a real strong advocate for what was best for the community, and I recall she used to say, ‘We need to remember that no one of us is as good as all of us,’ ” Ratchford said. “That was her way of saying that we need to come together and begin looking out for the needs of all children if we’re going to be this world-class community.”

Crosby, who was born on March 9, 1925, in Winnsboro, S.C., graduated from Johnson C. Smith University in 1946 and earned a master’s degree from Bank Street College in New York City in 1970.

Also in 1970, she was appointed to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Charter Commission. In 1977, she was appointed to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Crosby has served as vice president of the United Community Service Board and on the Community Relations Committee, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Trustees, the Drug Education Board, and the Board of Trustees of Johnson C. Smith University.

In 1974, she was awarded the B’nai B’rith Women’s Human Relations Award, and in 1975 she was inducted into the NAACP’s Hall of Fame.

Her husband of 51 years, Joseph Crosby, died in June 2001. They have two children, Joseph Crosby Jr. and Kathy Wells.

Crosby’s funeral service will be at noon Nov. 24 at First Baptist Church-West, 1801 Oaklawn Ave., in Charlotte. Visitation will be from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon. Interment will be at Oaklawn Cemetery.

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