There was a message waiting for De Kirkpatrick when he returned to his Charlotte office:
“Your cousin from Oregon called.”
De laughed. Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick still has a sense of humor, he remembers thinking.
The two weren’t relatives and hadn’t been friends at Myers Park High School in 1965, but they did share the same last name. In the hallways then, they sometimes jokingly yelled, “Hey, Cuz.”
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De hadn’t thought about his classmate in years, until last February when the Observer recounted how Jimmie Lee, the first black football star at a predominantly white high school in Charlotte, had become the central figure in a 1965 civil rights lawsuit. What happened his senior year would set the city on edge, draw national attention and eventually give African-Americans the opportunity to play in one of the most prestigious games in the Carolinas.
De emailed the Observer and asked how to contact Jimmie Lee, a retired educator in Portland, Ore.
“His being denied a place on the Shrine Bowl team was blatant racism, and prompted me to write about those events, in the context of the civil rights changes in Charlotte, as part of my application to college,” De’s email said. “Jimmie Lee’s story, on and off the field, probably got me, a white Southern male, into an Ivy League school.”
He signed the email: H.D. “De” Kirkpatrick.
Almost 50 years later, he wanted to say hello and thank Jimmie Lee for helping him get into college.
De was about to find out that Jimmie Lee had a story for him, too.