New murals celebrate legacy of Second Ward High School

Murals painted by local artist Tommie Robinson capture the spirit of Second Ward High School and other Charlotte neighborhoods central to black life.

Why This Matters: Second Ward High School was the first public high school for African-American students in Charlotte. It closed during the “urban renewal” period of the 1960s.

Public artwork depicting Charlotte’s historically black communities destroyed by urban renewal came to life last week in the old Second Ward High School gymnasium.

Nearly 250 Tiger alumni, former Second Ward residents and community leaders attended a Feb. 7 dedication ceremony honoring a mural project created by renowned local artist Tommie Robinson. Two new murals — “Go, Tigers!” and “We Too, Shall Rise” — hang on display in the gym representing the Second Ward High School story and its community impact. The recently renovated gym is the only remaining structure from the city’s first public high school for black children.

“Go, Tigers!” is one of two recent murals displayed in the Second Ward High School Gymnasium that highlights the history of Charlotte’s first public high school for black students. Photo: Ken Koontz

Robinson, a self-taught artist, spent almost two years completing the paintings.

“Faced with the realities of separate, but not often equal opportunities, students of the Second Ward High School strived to excel in pursuit of a better tomorrow,” Robinson said in his artist statement.

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“Go, Tigers!” illustrates students’ school spirit and tenacity while participating in sports and cultural activities. “We Too, Shall Rise” is inspired by the hope and determination of people living in the segregated South to rise above their cultural circumstances.

Folk artist Nellie Ashford (left) with Tommie Robinson at the Feb. 7 mural dedication at the Second Ward High School Gym. Robinson created two murals — “We Too, Shall Rise” shown here — on display at the historic gym.  Photo: Ken Koontz

A staple of the former Brooklyn neighborhood, Second Ward High School was built in 1923 and shut down in 1969 with an expectation that it would be rebuilt through a bond campaign. That never happened. Instead, new condos, office towers, hotels and parking lots went up in its place.

The project was funded through a City of Charlotte ordinance that sets aside 1 percent of its capital improvements budget to fund city and county public arts programs. The fund is administered through the Arts and Science Council.