Independence Principal Mark Bosco with Billy Earl Smith. Photo by Cody Beyer.

Eds. note: Cody Beyer was curious. The Editor-In-Chief of the Independence High School student newspaper wondered where the letters for the “Independence” sign above the clock in the school come from. After some investigative work, he discovered they came from another “Independence” building, this one in downtown Charlotte that was about to be demolished. Here’s the story:

In the 1980s many things about daily life were much different from they are today such as, the school was the biggest school in the state of North Carolina. What wasn’t different about Independence High School is the black letters that proudly spell INDEPENDENCE that hang above the back stairway in the mall area. Mr. Billy Earl Smith donated these letters to the school in 1981. They were purchased from the Independence Building that stood on the Northwest corner of Trade and Tryon streets, when it was taken off the list of historical buildings here in Charlotte. The listing had expired at midnight and five minutes after, the letters were taken down by Mr.Smith.Ultimately, the building itself was imploded. When built, the Independence Building was the tallest building from Atlanta to Philadelphia. The payment that Smith made for the letters was simply removing them from the building. There were bronze, four-inch screws in the back and they were very difficult to get off of the building. The owner told Smith they were his if he could get them down. He worked for a long time to get them down and once he did they stayed in his home office for three months before he decided that they needed to go to the school. Independence had to find the perfect spot for them and Smith realized that the students had been looking up at the clock in the lunch room so he decided he would put them right above the clock. He said that if you think about it, you don’t actually look at signs on the highway but you know where to go if someone tells you to go somewhere off the highway. So he said this letters will be put in that place so that if anyone ever looked at the clock then they would subconsciously know where these letters were. Although the deal was getting them off of the Independence Trust Company Building, putting them up somewhere else would be 10 times more difficult. After the decision had been made to put these letters inside of the school, it would take a full three months to mount these letters in the perfect position. After three months and 42 holes in the wall, the letters were placed so that the entire school could see these bronze letters hanging high above the main stairway.The Independence principal at the time was H.L. Hawkins and he was ecstatic to receive the letters. The two worked out a deal that the letters would be gifted to the school never to be given back to Mr. Smith or his family unless the school had been destroyed. Mr. Smith’s daughter and son both attended Independence; his son David graduated in 1980 and his daughter followed in 1981.At the senior awards night of the graduating class of 1981, Mr. Smith dedicated the letters “to all the students at the school, past to future.” After three months of work,with help from his son David Smith and a friend, Jeff Price, Mr. Smith used scaffolding to put the black letters up. This is not the first contribution the Smith family has made to the school. Mr.Smith’s daughter made the first school flags for the marching band.