Local commissioner remembers holding NC teacher rally in 1989

(Mike Rode | WBTV)


Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake remembers in 1989 when she led teachers to a rally in Raleigh. Before she was a county commissioner, Leake was a Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) teacher and president of the local teacher association. She says the issues back then are the same issues teachers are fighting today. Teacher pay was the main concern.

Wednesday, May 16 more than 10,000 teachers from across North Carolina will approach lawmakers about teacher pay. Teacher pay in North Carolina is currently 37th in the nation. Leake is disturbed history is repeating itself.

“The teachers need to make sure that they work and be politically active and get those legislators out of there who are not supportive of them in salary and working conditions,” County Commissioner Vilma Leake said.

Leake says her quest in 1989 started with just four teachers going and ended up being thousands of teachers attending the rally. She says 46 buses full of teachers left Charlotte that morning.

She says when they arrived to Raleigh they participated in a rally and she talked to then Governor Jim Martin for about an hour about teacher concerns. She says Martin said he would only talk to her for only 15 minutes. Leake remembers the conversation like it was yesterday.

“That very day I met with the governor he was receptive.” Leake said.

Leake believes her talk and the rally worked. She says teacher pay did increase.

“We got more money that year than we ever gotten,” Leake said. “The largest rally they ever had was February 14, 1989,” Leake added.

Despite the fact teacher pay did go up in North Carolina, Leake says a promise was still made to teachers regarding their pay.

“They said we would be at the national level in ten years,” Leake said. “We haven’t touched the national level.”

North Carolina is still about $10,000 below the national average for teacher pay. Leake wished more teachers would go to Raleigh on May 16 to send a strong message to lawmakers.

“Keep the faith,” Leake said. “Don’t give up – that’s what they want you to do.”

Leake also remembers no school shut down so teachers could go to Raleigh. She says the community and parents chipped in and covered the classrooms.

So far about seven buses from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg local teacher association will be traveling to Raleigh May 16.

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