Charlotte students memorialize namesake of Lockhart Elementary

aspecht@newsobserver.comMay 28, 2013 

— Students from a Charlotte elementary school recently put a face on Lockhart Elementary’s name.

Fourth-graders from McAlpine Elementary filed off a charter bus in Knightdale shortly after 9 a.m. on May 23. In tow: a newly-minted bronze plaque, and a fresh perspective on one of North Carolina’s most influential educators, John Clegg Lockhart.

When they met outside Lockhart Elementary’s lobby, McAlpine teacher Justin Ashley asked principal Daniel Zoller to follow him to the school’s front lawn. That’s where the students lined up in three rows, bowed their hands and performed a song and dance routine about the Knightdale school’s namesake.

Through song, students described the late Lockhart as a “Superman” who “built the schools up.”

“Standing in the hall of fame, Carolina’s gonna know your name, Cause you burned the brightest flame,” the students sang to the tune of will.i.am and Script’s song “Hall of Fame.”

McAlpine student Chloe Hess said the song was merely a fraction she learned about Lockhart since the class received an unmarked package earlier this semester. The package contained old newpaper articles, Lockhart’s personal documents, and a letter from Lockhart’s great-grandson, Patrick Phillips. It read: “Restore honor to my great-grandfather’s name.”

After two months researching Lockheart’s life and accomplishments, Hess described singing at Lockhart Elementary as “an honor.”

“(Lockhart) always resisted pessimism and always stood up for what was right,” Hess said. “He was a great man and ... I knew it would be fun singing about how much he meant to us.”

Lockhart was Superintendent of Wake County Schools from 1918 to 1940, and Mecklenburg County Schools from 1940 to 1943. He also led the N.C. Education Association from 1942 to 1943, and was business manager of the N.C. Woman’s College, which later became UNC-Greensboro.

More impressive, students said, is Lockhart’s record on civil justice. During the Jim Crow era, the Chapel Hill native pushed for the construction of five high schools for black students and a county-wide bus system to transport them.

“He was a family man and a gentleman who didn’t care about skin color,” said McAlpine student Tori Cole.

During World War II, “he gave his house to soldiers to stay in,” said McAlpine student Tanner Rothenberger. “He was always dedicating his time to others.”

Zoller, the Lockhart principal, said he never knew the school’s namesake was the main advocate for a state retirement plan for teachers and state employees.

Less than 30 minutes after arriving in Knightdale, the McAlpine bus departed. Ashley’s class still hoped to reach the Capitol Building in Raleigh by 10 a.m. and Lockhart’s daughter and granddaughter in Greensboro by 3:30 p.m. before heading home to Charlotte.

Rothenberger, a 10-year-old student, explained their hurried day this way: “We’re not history students. We’re history teachers.”

Specht: 919-829-4826

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