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Will Greensboro Rename A Street To Honor Student Who Desegregated High School?

While most high school seniors celebrate and enjoy their last year of school, Josephine Boyd endured name calling, bullying and discrimination at her new school, Greensboro High.

It was 1957, just three years after the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education ruled segregated schools were unconstitutional.

She had attended the all-black Dudley High School in Greensboro. When the opportunity came to transfer to Greensboro High School, now named Grimsley High, there wasn’t any option but to go.

“Whatever my mom told us to do , that's what we had to do,” Boyd’s sister Fannie Thompson said about their life growing up. “There was no discussion about it and you didn't give any input into it. You just did what mom said you were going to do.”

Boyd died in 2015, but her sister remembers her walking  into the school as the only black student out of 2,000 white students.

Other black students were supposed to integrate the high school as well, but they backed out once they heard about issues they could endure.

Josephine Boyd fashion
Credit Courtesy of Fannie Thompson
Josephine Boyd walks during a fashion show at North Carolina Central University. After being the first Black student to graduate from Greensboro High School in 1958, she graduated from NCCU.

Thompson says white students picked on her sister and threw things at her. However, she says her sister would remain stoic throughout the day, until she reached home then would cry in private.

Boyd continued in spite of it all, for one reason.

“She wanted us, and when I say us, I'm embracing the entire black community, to have the same equal rights and opportunities that others have,” Thompson said of her sister.

Boyd graduated at the top of her class and then went on to graduate from North Carolina Central University.

She was the first black student to desegregate high schools in the southeast region of the country and did so just a few weeks before the Little Rock Nine.  In 1957, a group of nine black students in Little Rock, Ark. integrated Little Rock Central High School.

Her high school career is one of the reasons why the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro wants to rename Aycock Street and part of Westover Terrace to Boyd Boulevard.

Beloved Community Center Grassroots Director Lewis Brandon has been working on gaining recognition for Boyd for the past two years.

“Look at this as a means of honoring someone who deserves to be honored,” he said. “If we're going to put up statues, put up statues of people like Josephine, people who’ve done something real positive in the community.”

If we're going to put up statues, put up statues of people like Josephine, people who've done something real positive in the community. -Beloved Community Center Grassroots Director Lewis Brandon

The street runs right in front of Grimsley High School.

This wouldn’t be the first time a landmark or place has been renamed after former Governor Charles Aycock.

Aycock Middle School was recently named Swann Middle School and Aycock auditorium at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has been renamed to UNCG Auditorium.

The main reason for the name changes was Aycock's white supremacy campaigns that led to the Wilmington insurrection of 1898.

However, Brandon says the possible street renaming has nothing to do with Aycock or the recent trend of removing statues or historical markers that honor Confederate officials.

“It could've been named Brandon Street and I would've made that request,” he said. “It's about Josephine Boyd. It's not trying to denigrate Aycock or anything to that nature.”

The Beloved Community Center submitted a petition with more than four hundred signatures in favor of the name change to the Greensboro City Council last month.

The council has not yet taken any action on it. 

Boyd's sister, Fannie Thompson, supports the name change.

“I feel that it would be one way that Greensboro can own up and be proud of the accomplishment,” she said. “For her to have endured what she endured, I think that would be a very good way to remember her.”

Naomi P. Brown joined WUNC in January 2017.
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