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During WWII, keeping up morale for American soldiers was a major national concern. The Library Section of the U.S. War Department, and later an organization called the Council on Books in Wartime, figured out a way to print contemporary titles inexpensively in a small paperback format that would also be easy to carry. The books were printed on presses used for magazines, so the text was set in two columns and each printed page usually included the text of four books. Once printed, the pages were cut apart horizontally. This process created paperbacks that were wider than they were tall. The covers of the Armed Services Editions (ASE) showed an image of the original book cover and noted whether the edition was abridged. Most were not. 

Over the course of the war, 1,322 books (some of which were reprints) were selected to be Armed Service Editions. The list of titles comprised many genres and styles, including fiction, nonfiction, plays, and poetry. It included contemporary literature as well as classics. Though the Army and Navy had to approve the titles selected by the Council on Books in Wartime, there was much less censorship of the titles than might be expected. The program handed out more than one million copies of ASE paperbacks, each free to service members.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Armed Services Edition

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, standard edition

One of the books chosen for publication as an ASE was Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Smith worked for years as a playwright before writing her first novel, which was wildly successful. She wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn while living in Chapel Hill, but based the novel on her childhood in Brooklyn. This story of a young girl growing up in the tenements was surprisingly popular with soldiers, who sent lots of fan mail to Betty Smith in Chapel Hill. According to Michael Hackenberg’s “The Armed Services Editions in Publishing History,” Smith actually received much more fan mail from soldiers than she did from civilians, even though her book was very popular at home.

Because of its popularity, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of about 100 titles chosen for a second printing as an ASE. In their fan letters, some soldiers wrote that Smith’s book reminded them of their own childhoods in Brooklyn.

Letter to Betty Smith from September 23, 1944, Betty Smith Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library

In a fan letter dated September 5, 1944, Charlie Pierce wrote, “I am a soldier some 1,500 miles from my beloved Brooklyn of which you wrote, so I know something of loneliness. Your book brought many hours of happiness to me – it was so human and so understanding.” Yet another soldier, Frank Ebey, called it simply, “that splendid book,” in his letter from September 1944. Perhaps it was the humanity that Pierce notes, more than a sense of place, which caused A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to resonate with so many ASE readers.

Betty Smith was not the only author with North Carolina ties to have a work published as an ASE. The program printed two of Thomas Wolfe’s novels, Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River.

Look Homeward, Angel, Armed Services Edition

Of Time and the River, Armed Services Edition

On this day in 1865: George W. Nichols, a major in Sherman’s army, writing in his journal in Laurel Hill, N.C.:

“The line which divides South and North Carolina was passed by the army this morning. . . . The real difference between the two regions lies in the fact that the plantation owners [in North Carolina] work with their own hands, and do not think they degrade themselves thereby. For the first time since we bade farewell to salt water I have to-day seen an attempt to manure land. The army has passed through thirteen miles or more of splendidly-managed farms; the corn and cotton fields are nicely plowed and farrowed; the fences are in capital order; the barns are well-built; the dwelling houses are clean, and there is that air of thrift which shows that the owner takes a personal interest in the management of affairs.”

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On this day in 1712: After nearly a month of fighting near present-day Grifton, colonial forces persuade the Tuscarora to agree to a truce and peace treaty. The war starts anew, however, when Col. John Barnwell begins selling Indian prisoners as slaves.

“In 2013, we did a dinner at Stagville Plantation in Durham, 150 people. I did invite Paula Deen, [but] she didn’t show up after my infamous letter to her….

“Almost all the food was prepared 19th Century style, open fires, cast iron skillets, wooden utensils. As we sat down to eat in the shadows of these four remaining slave cabins on this plantation that had 900 enslaved individuals across its history, it just dawned on me that the ancestors who had worked and lived and died there could never have dreamed that we would be honoring them in that way, with this many diverse people. I think we achieved a miracle, knowing it or not.

“That’s my whole mission, to uncover pieces of myself but use that to transform the way people look at race in America, to move the conversation beyond ‘this is mine and this is yours’ to ‘this is ours and this is we and this is us.’ ”

— Culinary historian Michael Twitty, quoted at ideastations.org (Feb. 23)

 

Several new titles just added to “New in the North Carolina Collection.” To see the full list simply click on the link in the entry or click on the “New in the North Carolina Collection” tab at the top of the page. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog and they are all available for use in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

Pickles and Relishes from The Progressive farmer’s southern cookbook.

Fig Pickles from Capital city cook book : a collection of practical tested receipts.

Pickled Shrimp from Dixie dishes.

Squash Pickles from What’s cookin’? in 1822.

Cantaloupe Pickles from The Progressive farmer’s southern cookbook.

Artichoke Pickles from Favorite recipes of the Lower Cape Fear.

Watermelon Rind Pickles from North Carolina and Old Salem cookery.

I Am Not Your Negro begins with [James Baldwin‘s] return to the U.S. in 1957 after living in France for almost a decade — a return prompted by seeing a photograph of 15-year-old Dorothy Counts and the violent white mob that surrounded her as she entered and desegregated Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. After seeing that picture, Baldwin explained, ‘I could simply no longer sit around Paris discussing the Algerian and the black American problem. Everybody was paying their dues, and it was time I went home and paid mine.’ ”

— From “The Imperfect Power of I Am Not Your Negro” by Dagmawi Woubshet in The Atlantic (Feb. 8)

A dramatic turning point, for sure — but chronologically impossible

 

In 1996, I got a call from a friend who was (and is) a historian in North Carolina, Dick Kohn. Prof. Kohn suggested that I might be able to help a young Army officer completing his Ph.D. studies at the University of North Carolina. Kohn was concerned that Maj. H.R. McMaster might soon be in big trouble with senior leadership….McMaster was about to publish a critical book about the Vietnam War….

“In our telephone discussions, McMaster was very polite, but he did not follow my suggestions about toning down his criticism. It was clear he was extremely smart, very well-read, a fine researcher and a man of strong convictions. Later I predicted his career would suffer. I was wrong….”

— From “One of the Army’s best is about to face his greatest challenge” by Perry M. Smith in the Augusta Chronicle (Feb. 25)

 

“Comparing race relations in the early 20th century to what they had been like after Reconstruction, a [white] North Carolinian lamented the extent to which blacks showed disdain for the old customs, monopolizing, for example, the inner side of the sidewalks once deemed the white man’s ‘right of way.’

“This was no small matter. Such ‘assertions of independence’ and ‘racial equality,’ if tolerated, were bound to have disastrous consequences.

” ‘When the whites yield in what would be usually called “trifles,” they may some day discover that little by little these trifles have grown into “thunder-bolts.” ‘ ”

— From “Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow” by Leon F. Litwack (2010)

 

This month’s Artifact of the Month is the plaque that appeared on the building now known as Carolina Hall.

Image of a Plaque

Completed in 1922, the academic building originally got its name from class of 1854 graduate William Lawrence Saunders. Leading into 2015, UNC students objected to Saunders’ reported membership in the Ku Klux Klan and issued a call to action. According to the News and Observer, the UNC Board of Trustees deliberated for “about a year,” eventually voting 10-3 to select a more “unifying name.”

Even before the Board’s deliberation, some students proposed that the building should honor anthropologist and writer Zora Neal Hurston. The students advocated for that name because as an African American woman, her identity contrasted the issues of racism and sexism perpetuated by having Saunders’ name on the building. Hurston also had ties to the University: in 1939 she attended writing classes at UNC with playwright Paul Green. Some activists used hashtags like “#HurstonHall” on Twitter, while others made T-shirts like this one, from the University Archives’ digital T-shirt archive.

Image of a T-Shirt

On May 28, 2015, the UNC Board of Trustees proceeded with renaming Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall. The Board also issued a sixteen-year moratorium on renaming historic buildings. According to The Daily Tar Heel, some activists critiqued the moratorium as well as the selection of the name “Carolina Hall.”

In a May 2015 article of the Daily Tar Heel, senior Judy Robbins was quoted as saying, “Renaming it Carolina Hall is automatically silencing all of the students who worked on this and also all students of color who have ever attended UNC and ever will attend UNC.” Carolina Hall officially reopened in the fall of that same year with a new name plaque. The old Saunders Hall plaque came to the North Carolina Collection Gallery.

On November 11, 2016, a new exhibit opened exploring the history of the building’s name, William Saunders, and the Reconstruction era.

Picture of Exhibit

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