‘A journey’: 2 former classmates discover their past intertwined through slavery

CHARLOTTE — Two former classmates at Myers Park High look nothing alike but have the same last name. For years, they didn’t think anything of it until an email opened a door to their family history that connected them in a way they could never have imagined.

[ALSO READ: 2 more Charlotte streets officially drop names tied to slavery, Confederacy]

“I mean, we were sort of a powerhouse but when Jimmie showed up, it was like Jim Brown had decided to come play for Myers Park and he lit it up,” H.D. Kirkpatrick said.

Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick was an all-American athlete who broke tackles and barriers.

“You know, I knew about Jimmie through the newspaper,” H.D. Kirkpatrick said. “He was well known as an athlete, even though he didn’t get much coverage in white newspapers. But he had a pretty star reputation.”

The Charlotte natives did not become friends in high school, but they knew each other.

“He was a rock star, and I was a spectator,” H.D. Kirkpatrick said laughing. “We will see each other in the hall and acknowledge we have the same last name. ‘Hey ‘cuz, how’s it going?’ But that was about it.”

Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick helped desegregate Myers Park in 1965.

“And there was a pressure,” Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick said. “There was that pressure of leaving your school, and the accusation of being a traitor and all those kinds of things.”

Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick scored 19 touchdowns as a senior at Myers Park and was often the only Black athlete on the field.

He was awarded the best player in the city of Charlotte.

“I felt that I had accomplished what I originally set out to accomplish at Myers Park, personally, but I certainly realize the controversy that surrounded it,” Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick said.

The controversy began to simmer when Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick was snubbed from the state’s all-star game.

Two of his white teammates made the roster that year.

The tension boiled over by way of a lawsuit challenging the decision to exclude Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick.

Things escalated when someone firebombed the office and home of the lawyer who filed the suit, Julius Chambers.

[ALSO READ: Civil rights attorney Julius Chambers honored by renamed Charlotte post office]

“There was no question from an objective perspective that Jimmie was the best player in North Carolina,” H.D. Kirkpatrick said. “It was very upsetting for me. That’s when I became very aware of racist issues.”

They rarely interacted in high school, and 50 years passed.

The Charlotte Observer brought Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick’s story back to the forefront.

H.D Kirkpatrick read the articles and contacted the reporter to find his old classmate.

[Official: Charlotte civil rights leader Julius Chambers dies]

“I signed my email professionally ‘H.D.,’ my first two initials I’ve used for years,” he said. “And during the phone conversation with Jimmie, after the email got to him, that’s what he asked me. ‘What the H stands for?’ and I said, ‘Hugh.’ And he tells me that, ‘Oh, yeah. I know a lot about your family.’”

“I’d been tracing my family back to the farm in the Myers Park area, Sharon (area),” Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick said. “I started visiting white churches and would see the Kirkpatrick names.”

“And he went on to say that through his own research, he discovered that his great-great-great grandfather, Sam Kirkpatrick, had been owned by a white Kirkpatrick named Hugh,” H.D. Kirkpatrick said. “And I’m, like, that may be my great-great grandfather.”

It was the same Sam Kirkpatrick.

“My family never mentioned any kind of connection to slavery, and so this was a surprise to me,” H.D. Kirkpatrick said.

“I look at it as a journey,” Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick said. “And it’s been a journey of discovery.”

H.D. Kirkpatrick said he has spent the past few years researching Southern slavery.

He also recently wrote another book called “Marse: A Psychological Portrait of the Southern Slave Master and His Legacy of White Supremacy.”