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Parallel Lives Exhibition: Introduction

An exhibition celebrating the centennial anniversaries of Central High and Second Ward High Schools as well as the students and staff who walked their hallways.

From band practice to Drama Club meetings; homework and finals; attending the prom or not attending at all; winning the big game or watching it from the stands; the echoes of voices in the hallways between class periods — from one generation to the next, these are moments most American high school students can look back on. The same can be said for students who attended Central High School and Second Ward High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, both of which opened in 1923.

Central High and Second Ward were extremely important schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, as they were built to fulfill the growing educational needs of Charlotte students in the early twentieth century. With Central High situated along Elizabeth Avenue and Second Ward along Alexander Street, these schools were only a few blocks away from one another, yet they lived along parallel lines due to existing in a segregated society. For a majority of its history, Second Ward High School served Black students and Central High School served White students. It was not until 1957 that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools would integrate Black and White students.

Exactly 100 years after the construction of these buildings, Central High’s facility remains standing as part of the Central Campus of Central Piedmont Community College, while the Second Ward gymnasium and a historical marker plaque are all that remain of Second Ward — physical reminders that serve as testaments to the importance of landmarks preservation.

This exhibition highlights the centennial history of Central High and Second Ward High Schools, showcases and celebrates the memories of its students and alumni groups, and raises awareness about the importance of historical preservation and conversations surrounding this topic.

Thank you to partners from Johnson C. Smith University, UNC-Charlotte, the Second Ward High School National Alumni Foundation, and the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room for their assistance with researching information and the preservation of these important legacies. Additionally, thank you to Cynthia Williams, Vernie Johnson-White, and Randolph White, for loaning Second Ward yearbooks.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Central High School, 1929. (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Sanborn Maps Collection)

Materials from Central High School’s alumni group materials. (Credit: Central Piedmont Archives, AR.0031 - Central High School Collection)

A copy of Central Piedmont Community College: The First Thirty Years 1963-1993 by Carol Timblin. (Courtesy: Central Piedmont Library)

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Second Ward High School, 1929. (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division, Sanborn Maps Collection.)

Materials related to Second Ward High School and the SWHS National Alumni Foundation. (Courtesy of J. Murrey Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte, Thereasea D. Elder Papers)

A copy of Black America Series: Charlotte, North Carolina by Vermelle Diamond Ely, Grace Hoey Drain, and Amy Rogers. (Courtesy of Johnamarie Macías)

Content Warning

Central Piedmont Community College recognizes this exhibition contains some offensive content that does not reflect the College’s values and its commitment to inclusion and diversity. The Central Piedmont Archives presents the following content in its original and unaltered form for the purpose of educating and providing information. Displaying and providing access to these historical records does not endorse any attitudes, prejudices, or behaviors depicted in this exhibition. The Central Piedmont Archives is committed to upholding the principle of equal and free access to unaltered historical information.


  • Photographs of Central High School and Second Ward High School in the header, courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
  • Other photographs in the header come from The Tiger and Snips and Cuts yearbooks.
  • The 1948 topographical map of the Charlotte area is from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).