New Public Art Celebrates Charlotte’s First High School for African-Americans

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Why This Matters: Two new public art murals by local artist Tommie Robinson – “We Too, Shall Rise” and “Go Tigers!” – reflect the rich history of Second Ward High School and Charlotte’s former Brooklyn neighborhood.
“Go Tigers!” (left) and “We Too, Shall Rise” by Charlotte artist Tommie Robinson are the new murals installed in January as the public artwork for the renovated Second Ward High School Gym.
By Bernie Petit
Communications Manager

The legacy of Second Ward High School, one of the cornerstones of Charlotte’s former Brooklyn neighborhood, is remembered through two new murals by local artist Tommie Robinson.

The public artwork, completed in late January, can be found in the recently renovated Second Ward High School Gym, one of the last vestiges of Brooklyn, which was a predominately African-American community during the era of segregation.

The murals – “We Too, Shall Rise” and “Go Tigers!” – reflect the rich history of Second Ward High School, built in 1923 as the first public high school for African-American students in Charlotte and closed in 1969 in the name of “urban renewal.”

The school boasts an active alumni group 50 years later. Robinson said his murals also reflect the immense pride past students still have for their school.

Tommie Robinson. Photo courtesy T. Ortega Gaines.

The public artwork was “inspired by the hope and determination of a people living in the segregated South to rise above their current circumstances,” Robinson said in his artist statement.

“We Too, Shall Rise” calls out other Charlotte neighborhoods that were central to black life before and after the razing of Brooklyn. It also highlights the hard work and accomplishments of Second Ward students.

“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 stated.

“Go Tigers!,” meanwhile, captures the spirit and tenacity students demonstrated while participating in sports and cultural activities.

“Second Ward High School students worked hard in the classroom and played hard on the field,” said Robinson, a self-taught artist who has been painting for more than 50 years, with notable exhibitions at The Mint Museum, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture at Levine Center for the Arts and the McColl Center for Arts + Innovation.

His public artwork, commissioned by ASC and funded by Mecklenburg County’s public art ordinance, will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 7 at Second Ward High School Gym (710 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Charlotte).

The celebration will include performances by the choral group Soundwaves, which features alumni of Second Ward High School, and spoken word poetry by Hannah Hasan, in addition to remarks from Robinson and local officials.

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