1616 Patton Avenue

 

This is a draft, now being reviewed by members of the McCrorey Heights Neighborhood Association. Please share comments with Tom@HistorySouth.org 

Built about 1959 and first occupied by leading Charlotte educator Libby Randolph and her husband John D. Randolph, maintenance man at Charlotte’s Brookhill Village low-income housing development. Elizabeth “Libby” Randolph was Principal at University Park Elementary when the couple moved here. During the 1960s as a CMS administrator she launched kindergarten classes across the school district. She rose to become Assistant Superintendent in the 1970s, the first African American female in top administration, and was named WBT Woman of the Year — the city’s highest honor. The main building of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools administrative campus is named in her memory.

The second longtime resident in this house was Rosemary Lawrence, Revenue Manager for the City of Charlotte.

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Elizabeth “Libby” Schmoke Randolph grew up in a remarkable family. Her father John Hagan Schmoke saved enough on a carpenter’s wages to raise six children, four of whom went to college. In particular, her brother Murray Schmoke “graduated from Morehouse College in 1949 and became a civilian chemist for the U.S. Army at the Edgewood Arsenal and the Aberdeen Proving Ground,” according to a 1991 story in the Baltimore Sun. Murray’s son Kurt (Libby’s nephew), the newspaper went on, “was a star quarterback in high school; a Rhodes Scholar in college; a clean-cut young federal prosecutor who shocked the [Baltimore] political establishment, first … with a successful, grass-roots, outsider’s campaign for state’s attorney and then, with a similar campaign for mayor in 1987.” Kurt Schmoke won election as Baltimore’s first black mayor and served twelve years til 1999.

For Libby, however, the most influential family member was her mother Pearl Johnson Schmoke. “My mother was a teacher and I was her oldest child,” a friend quoted Libby as saying. “She told me she wanted me to be a teacher, too.”

Since the family lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, it was relatively easy for young Libby to make her way to Shaw University there. She went on to University of Michigan for a Masters.

Randolph taught school in eastern North Carolina before Dr. Elmer Garinger, energetic Superintendent at CMS, recruited her to West Charlotte High in 1944, where she quickly became a beloved teacher of English. She went back to school herself as one of the first black graduate students in the School of Education at UNC Chapel Hill where she earned the Advanced Certificate in School Administration in 1958, the gateway credential to become a principal.

Randolph became the founding principal at new University Park Elementary School later that year. Today it is hard to grasp the importance that the position of school principal held in the era of segregation. African Americans ran no public agency nor any corporate office, so to be a principal in charge of a school’s budget and its roster of teachers was to be one of Charlotte’s top black executives. In 1959 she and husband John took out the permit to build this handsome house in the McCrorey Heights neighborhood where so many other educators resided.

When Lyndon B. Johnson won election as President of the U.S., he launched the War on Poverty which aimed to use government to better the lives of poor Americans, especially in the South. LBJ’s 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) for the first time invested Federal dollars into local public schools. Among the new initiatives, Washington helped localities open kindergartens, then a rarity in America. Libby Randolph became the point person for CMS, adding kindergartens first to low-income schools, then to all Charlotte elementary schools. Between 1967 and 1973 the school system went from having a single kindergarten at Davidson Elementary School to having 41 classes at schools around the county.

Over the years her responsibilities in CMS administration increased, including directing the Title I program, the ESEA funding stream that aided low-wealth schools. She became nationally known, the first black woman elected President of the 30,000 member Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. At the height of school desegregation in 1976-77, CMS fired its superintendent and put a four-person team in charge for a year as it sought a new chief; Libby Randolph was one of the four — the first African American female in top leadership at CMS. When she retired in 1982 she was Associate Superintendent.

Husband John Randolph supported his spouse in her career. When the couple built this house, he directed maintenance at the sprawling Brookhill Village apartment complex on South Tryon Street. It had been constructed shortly after World War II largely for returning veterans (and would remain in use into 2017). John Randolph passed away in 1963.

Elizabeth Randolph died in 2004 at age 87 but her legacy lived on. An African American Album: The Black Experience in Charlotte Mecklenburg, a book of vintage photographs that she edited for the Charlotte Mecklenburg public library in 1993, continued to be a much-consulted resource; in 2006 the library updated it as Thriving in the Shadows with additional content by journalist Fannie Flono. In 2017 CMS announced it would name a building at its new administrative headquarters in Randolph’s honor. A news article the same year called attention to a community fund that Randolph established 1993, disbursing tens of thousands of dollars annually to projects such as Freedom School Partners, a summer education initiative.

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When Libby Randolph left this house toward the end of her life, Rosemary Lunn Lawrence and her husband James E. Lawrence, Jr., (who passed away shortly after moving in) became the second long-time owners. James Lawrence was the church administrator at Charlotte’s large Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Rosemary Lawrence, a 1969 graduate of JCSU, had worked in banking before joining the City of Charlotte as its first Revenue Manager, 1985 – 2009. She also was active in community service including:

  • Volunteer Coordinator for Friendship Community Development Corporation, the non-profit arm of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, which built housing for low-income “women in transition” off Beatties Ford Road in the 2000s. http://www.friendshipcdc.org/board.htm  Also http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/community/explorers/article23025525.html
  • Founding member of Charlotte’s second AKA sorority chapter in 1989, known for its civic activism. http://rhopsiomega.org/rho-psi-omega-chapter/history
  • Lawrence’s adult daughter Kamaria Lawrence, who lived in this house, worked as a paid organizer in the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, 2016.  https://my.ofa.us/page/event/detail/phonebank/gsfvhj
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Architecture

One-story brick ranch house with low hip roofs.  The main roof extends to the west wide, creating a two-vehicle car port. The second long-time owners installed larger windows, taking care to make the changes indistinguishable except to the trained eye.

1959 – John D. Randolph & Elizabeth G.
He: Maintenance man, Brookhill Village Apts.
She: Principal, University Park Elementary School

City directory collection, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Resources

“Deposition of Elizabeth S. Randolph,” 1973, for Swann v. Mecklenburg. Julius Chambers Papers, Special Collections, UNC Charlotte. [Contains detailed information about Randolph’s work in establishing kindergartens] On-line at: http://digitalcollections.uncc.edu/cdm/search/collection/p16033coll7/searchterm/Deposition%20of%20Elizabeth%20S.%20Randolph/order/nosort

“Kurt Schmoke’s Family Always Emphasized the Education of the Children.” Baltimore Sun, July 31, 1991. On-line at: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1991-01-31/news/1991031067_1_schmoke-family-history-black-kids

“Long After Their Deaths, Two Visionary Women Continue to Shape Charlotte Through Their Giving,” Q City Metro website, August 4, 2017. On-line at: https://qcitymetro.com/2017/08/04/httpswww-fftc-org/

Randolph, Elizabeth S., editor, An African American Album: The Black Experience in Charlotte Mecklenburg (Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1993). On-line at: http://www.cmstory.org/african-american-album

Randolph, Elizabeth Schmoke, oral history for “Behind the Veil” project, Duke University Archives. Audio is on-line at: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/behindtheveil_btvnc02044/

Randolph, Elizabeth Schmoke, 1993 oral history in the collection of UNC Charlotte. Transcript and audio on-line at: http://nsv.uncc.edu/interview/mura0047

“She Broke a Racial Barrier at CMS. Now the Community Says Thanks.” Charlotte Observer, February 16, 2017. On-line at: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article133131684.html