On July 20, 1996, my hometown of Hickory, N.C., celebrated ‘‘Dr. E.
Patrick Johnson Day.’’ I was given this honor because, to the town’s
knowledge, I am the first African American born in Hickory to earn
a Ph.D. The celebration was initiated by a number of black leaders,
namely city councilwoman and family friend Z. Ann Hoyle, who
wanted to send a message not only to the whites of this small town
in the foothills of western North Carolina, but also to the younger
black children in the community aspiring to make something of their
lives. The two running themes of that day, both of which were printed
on the program and the cake, were ‘‘From Zero to Hero’’ and ‘‘They
Said It Couldn’t Be Done.’’ While I was a little perplexed by the former
(I’ve never thought of myself as ever being a ‘‘zero’’!), the latter spoke
to this black community’s indictment of the institutionalized racism
that for many years kept the educational system in Hickory separate
and unequal. Held in the neighborhood where I grew up and in the
gymnasium of the old black high school—Ridgeview High—the cere-
mony, while for me and in my honor, ultimately was not about me, for
this community had come together to commemorate its fortitude, its
undying determination to persevere in the midst of adversity. Indeed,
the black folk of Ridgeview were thumbing their noses at them—the
white folk of Hickory—that said ‘‘it couldn’t be done.’’ That is, produce
children who would make not only the black community of Hickory
proud, but all of its citizens. This book, therefore, is in no small part
indebted to the folks of Ridgeview who knew not only that it could be
done, but also that it would be done.
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