Be The Change - Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick - Charlotte Legend & Hero
Straight Outta Grier Town --> "One way in, one way out."
This is Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick. Athlete and Charlotte legend. He went to Myers Park High School, class of 1966. He grew up in Grier Town, an older African American Charlotte neighborhood (90%). The neighborhood is now called Grier Heights and when Jimmie Lee was a teenager, the average income was $15k, less than a third of Charlotte's overall income of $53,146. Jimmie Lee made the crucial decision to leave Second Ward High School (all black) to go to Myers Park High School (predominantly white) to play football. He was the first black athlete to make the Observer's All-Star football team. He went to high school with my Dad Jim Gribble (Class of ‘63) & my Mom Maja Banks (Class of '67). I’ve heard the stories (yes Dad, I sometimes listen to you). The stories are good; movie worthy. Hey Hollywood, are you listening?
Jimmie Lee was one of the best running backs to ever play high school football in North Carolina. He was a super star. He was nominated for the Shrine Bowl. In the Fall of 1964 Myers Park beat West Charlotte High School 58-0. 5 of those touchdowns belonged to Jimmie Lee. He still holds the record for the most touchdowns in a single school season: 19! He went on to Perdue where he continued to play football. The Charlotte Observer did an amazing story on Jimmie Lee and De Kirkpatrick, his white classmate. The two would joke in the hallways “Hey cuz!” Ironically, years later, after a lot of research the two men discovered that De’s great-great grandfather, Hugh, owned Jimmie Lees great-great-great grandfather, a slave named Sam. It’s an amazing story of how segregation and race did not divide the men, but brought them together.
My Dad played football at Myers Park. All my cousins played football at Myers Park. I have sat in those stands many, MANY times. To read that the night that Myers Park played Garinger in 1965 that there were 10,000 fans there is INSANE to me. It was the perfect stage for Jimmie Lee to score the winning touchdown, and he did not disappoint his teammates and fans. With 12 seconds left in the 4th, he caught the winning touchdown and those 10,000 people rushed the field.
Jimmie Lee now lives in Oregon and speaks on Civil Rights at schools and camps. I’ve spoken to him via Facebook and he is always humbled when the Observer or I post about him. “I just wanted to play football”.
And I just want the story to not be forgotten.
You are a hero Jimmie Lee!