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Home North Carolina Wilson County City of Wilson Historical Markers Charles Lee Coon 1868-1927

Charles Lee Coon 1868-1927

Vance Street at Rountree Street, Wilson, NC, USA
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Educational reformer, historian and author. Secty. of Child Labor Committee, 1904-1916. Home was 1/2 blk. west."
     Born near Lincolnton in 1868, Charles Lee Coon grew up in a religious home and joined Daniel’s Evangelical Lutheran Church at a young age. He attended a church sponsored school and his education based in religious principles influenced him heavily in adulthood. Coon then attended another Lutheran school, Concordia College, where he returned to teach in 1891. Coon left Concordia in 1897 to work for the Charlotte graded schools. However, due to conflicting views on educational method between Coon and his employers, he was dismissed in 1898. Coon then wrote articles for the Charlotte Observer in which he voiced concerns on educational reform. By the end of the nineteenth century, Coon was an active critic of the state’s educational system. Coon was appointed superintendent of the Salisbury graded schools in 1899 and used the opportunity to implement his educational reform standards. Through his work, he changed public opinion about the school system and built up popular support for his programs, both locally and state-wide.

     Coon became involved at the state level by working to influence politicians to improve educational standards. As part of the initiative, he wrote a “Declaration against Illiteracy,” widely viewed as one of the most important critiques of southern education. Coon’s article was distributed throughout the state and is credited as being pivotal to the state reforms. In 1904 Coon was appointed the first state superintendent of Negro normal schools. Coon sought to improve facilities and curriculum for black students, often stirring controversy for his plans to finance black education, giving a speech to that effect in Atlanta in 1909 entitled “Public Taxation and Negro Schools,” for which he was highly criticized by the News and Observer of Raleigh.

     Coon was active in the North Carolina Teachers’ Assembly and presented an address entitled “The Need of a Constructive Educational Policy for North Carolina” at the group’s annual conference in 1911. The speech became a hotly debated critical analysis of the state’s failure to students. Coon was appointed superintendent of schools in Wilson where he implemented more forward-thinking principles in school construction, curriculum reform, discipline, and teacher compensation. He died in 1927 and was survived by his wife, Carrie Sparger, and several children. He was buried in Wilson where a high school was named in his memory in 1928. That building has undergone adaptive use and now serves as housing for the elderly.

William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 427-429—sketch by George-Anne Willard
James L. Leloudis, Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920 (1996)
Charles L. Coon papers, University of North Carolina online finding aid:
Charles L. Coon, North Carolina Schools and Academies 1790-1840: A Documentary
(1915), electronic resource in Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina: http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coon/menu.html