Two visionary and steadfast leaders from the 1970s were recognized by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at a building dedication April 18. Elizabeth "Libby" Randolph and Dr. Chris Folk led CMS in the 1970s, when desegregation divided Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Randolph and Dr. Folk believed that all children deserved an equal education and worked to make that a reality.
To honor their legacy, three CMS administrative buildings on Stuart Andrew Boulevard were named for Dr. Folk and Randolph. The families of Randolph and Dr. Folk attended, as well as former and current CMS employees, administrators and Board of Education members.
The dedication program included remarks from Mary McCray, chairperson of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education; Ruby Jones, District 3 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education member; Dr. Joyce Woodard, retired CMS educator and Randolph's sorority sister; former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education member Ward McKeithen, and current Superintendent Ann Clark.
"Randolph and Dr. Folk's steadfast leadership and their grace under fire helped CMS move from all-black and all-white schools to a more equitable, integrated school district," said McCray. "Today we honor their work and their legacy with these building dedications, so that all who visit here will have an opportunity to read and reflect on what they gave us."
Randolph and Dr. Folk began as teachers before moving into leadership.
Dr. Folk was a teacher, principal and administrator for 37 years. He began his career in 1955 teaching English and journalism at Central High.
In 1958, Dr. Folk moved into school administration as a district advocate. Decisions about desegregation led to school fights, angry meetings and bomb threats, including one targeting Dr. Folk's home. From 1977 until his retirement in 1992, Dr. Folk served as an associate superintendent responsible for school policies, community relations and communications. He continued to work on special projects for CMS until his death in 2010.
"He was devoted to the school system and a product of it," said Bob Folk, Alexander Graham Middle principal and son of Dr. Folk. "He told me that at the time when he attended Duke University people became doctors and lawyers. He struggled to decide what he wanted to do. One day, during spring break, he was walking by Myers Park Traditional and decided on education. The rest is history."
Dr. Folk's widow, Mitzi, said her husband's priorities were God, their family and the school district.
"We had a rule that no phone calls would be taken during dinner but when desegregation was at its peak, we made an exception," Mrs. Folk said. "He would take the calls and many times the people on the other end were not kind. But Chris would listen, answer questions when appropriate or tell them he'd get back to them, and he would. He ended every conversation with 'thank you for your concerns.'"
Randolph began her CMS career in 1944 teaching English at West Charlotte Senior High. During an interview recorded by Jennifer Greeson for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Randolph said, "…those were the days of complete segregation. And all of the schools where I taught were schools for black students only. We had two school systems, the Charlotte City Schools and the Mecklenburg County Schools…you had that throughout until the Supreme Court decision outlawed school segregation…"
Randolph served as principal at University Park Elementary for nine years. As CMS worked towards integration, she welcomed white teachers and students. She retired in 1982 as an associate superintendent and died in 2004.
Both Randolph and Dr. Folk moved into leadership for the district in 1976 when the Board of Education fired the superintendent and created a four-person interim management team (IMT). Folk, Randolph, John Phillips and Jo Foster were asked to run the district while the Board found a new superintendent. The team stepped aside a year later when Jay Robinson was named superintendent.
"My aunt was always an inspiration to our family," said Kurt Schmoke, former mayor of Baltimore and current president of the University of Baltimore. "We were in challenging times but we didn't realize the role she played until later on. She never expressed it. That is the type of person she was. Her spirit and legacy will continue."
Randolph's best friend, Rosalia Durante, a teacher and humanitarian in her own right, shared spirited anecdotes about their upbringing, education and friendship.
"The two of us were children born in the Depression. Times were hard. Our parents saw to it that we attended school from the first grade right up to college," said Durante. "She kept nudging me through the years. Libby was a joiner; she'd want to be a member, then the chair. Her mission in life was to help someone every day. My friend did lots of good things. She was my inspiration."
A handwritten letter from Folk to Randolph from April 25, 1982, was read at the event. It illustrates the close, collaborative relationship between them.
"I really don't know how we are going to get along without you. Whom will I whisper to at board meetings? Who will do our midnight musings? Who will help me with the wording of policies? I shall always treasure the IMT days and being able to work closely with you, John and Jo. We have come a long way together since pre-consolidation days, and we can both take pride in the school system as it is today," he wrote.
The main building at 4421 Stuart Andrew Boulevard, was named the Elizabeth Schmoke Randolph Building. Two other buildings, 4335 and 4339, were named for Dr. Folk. The ceremony featured the unveiling of plaques that will be placed on the buildings.
"Randolph and Dr. Folk were pioneers. Both left CMS better than they found it," said Superintendent Ann Clark. "Today is not about chronicling their careers but knowing who they were as people and honoring their leadership."