CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Twelfth District Rep. Alma Adams paid tribute to Charlotte civil rights pioneer Sarah Stevenson, the first Black woman to serve on Charlotte’s school board, in a speech on the U.S. House floor Wednesday.
Stevenson’s insistence since the 1970s has been that Black students not only attend integrated schools but be given truly equal chances to succeed in them. She’s also co-founder of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, where for 40 years some of the city’s thorniest issues have been debated.
She’s “not only a queen of the Queen City but one of the crown jewels,” Adams said on the House floor.
Now 94, Stevenson lives in a Charlotte care facility and had felt “the end is nearing,” according to recent posts by her sister, Elloree Erwin, that were shared on the Breakfast Forum site. But on Monday, Erwin reported that she’d talked to her older sister and “she is her old self. She didn’t mention anything about leaving this world. Thank God for this.”
Stevenson has traced her activism to the day one of her three sons came home from school with a well-worn band uniform handed down from a white school. She began working with the PTA to raise money for new uniforms, eventually rising to lead Charlotte’s Black PTA council and then a consolidated council.
She later served on a citizens advisory board to help create a plan to bus students for desegregation when the Supreme Court ordered it in a landmark ruling in 1971. She was elected in 1980 and 1984 to the school board.
“Equity in education was always at the forefront of what she did, because even though the courts declared that ‘separate but equal’ was unequal, too many schools in Charlotte were both separate and unequal,” Adams said in her four-minute speech. “What she did made a difference.”
In 1984, Adams recounted, then-President Ronald Reagan stopped in Charlotte, where he repeated a familiar line that busing to integrate schools was a failed experiment. The line drew wild applause from most of Reagan’s audiences, she said, but Charlotte’s fell silent.
“That’s because in Charlotte activists like Sarah Stevenson worked hard so that Black and white parents could come together in support of Charlotte’s finest achievement, school integration,” she said.
Adams quoted a prayer that often opens the Breakfast Forum, one that asks God for “enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world.”
“Thank you, Miss Sarah, for working for justice, freedom and peace, and for blessing so many people with enough foolishness to believe that we can make the impossible possible,” she said.