This past December Phillip Harris of Butler High School was named the winner of the Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick Award presented by Dr Pepper. The award is given annual by the Charlotte Sports Foundation (CSF) to a senior football player from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) who displays talent both on the field and a passion for their community. The award, which comes with a $10,000 scholarship, trophy and recognition at the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, is named after Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick of Myers Park High School.

About Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick

In 1965 Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick made the brave decision to leave Second Ward High School to play for the predominantly white Myers Park High because of the opportunity it allowed him on the field as well as for the chance to open doors for other Black students to have access to better academic and athletic opportunities. That fall, Kirkpatrick was magic with the ball in his hands, accumulating 19 total touchdowns and All-American honors, all the while being subjected to hostility and open racism on the playing field and in the community.

The Mustangs finished the year undefeated and Kirkpatrick was named the best player in Charlotte and nominated to play in the Carolina’s all-star game, the Shrine Bowl. At that time the game had not been desegregated and Kirkpatrick was snubbed from the team, resulting in a public outcry and a lawsuit filed by legendary civil rights lawyer, Julius Chambers.

A judge ruled that the game could go on but future Shrine Bowls must be integrated. Within days, the homes of Chambers and three other civil rights leaders were bombed in Charlotte. Police interviewed more than 50 people, including Ku Klux Klan members, but the case remains unsolved. In 1966, two Black players were named to the North Carolina Shrine Bowl team. By then, Kirkpatrick had moved on to play football at Purdue and later settled in Oregon, where he worked as an educator and continued to push for equal rights.

His story was largely forgotten in Charlotte, until it was told in a 2013 Charlotte Observer series by Gary Schwab, David Scott and David Foster called “Breaking Through.”  In response to that series, Kirkpatrick was reunited with former classmate De Kirkpatrick. The two learned that De’s great-great grandfather had enslaved Jimmie’s great-great-great grandfather in the 1860s. Together, they now speak to groups about their personal journey into understanding their past, and about racial justice.

More info on the Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick Award presented by Dr Pepper.