A Light in the Haystack #1: North Carolina Democrats, 1960-2010

North Carolina Democrats have included an interesting assortment of characters over the past 200 years or so. In preparing for this blog, we quickly learned that the general assumptions about this party change a great deal depending upon which decade we focused. We chose this 50-year time period (1960-2010) because it reflects a recent and significant ideological shift in the party. While we have a large collection from one of North Carolina’s most distinguished democrats, Terry Sanford – this post intends to shine a light on other figures in the party, what our collections can say about NC Democrats at the end of the 20th century, and a glimpse at the scholarship on this subject.

Our dive into the archives confirmed what many political historians of the South already know: the SHC materials lean heavily toward the Democratic party in general, with most representatives falling between the years 1840 and 1920 (figure 1). Our quantitative review of collections revealed other patterns – for instance most of our politicians graduated from UNC, we have the highest representation of state level legislators (vs. national or local politicians), most of the politicians come from central and eastern North Carolina, and the political collections average about 2.5 Paige boxes of content.

Figure 1: Bar graph illustrating the year distribution of SHC collections donated by North Carolina politicians, reflects a sample of 25 collections. The big spike between 1880 and 1890 contributes to our large subject strength in Reconstruction politics

Figure 1: Bar graph illustrating the year distribution of SHC collections donated by North Carolina politicians, reflects a sample of 25 collections. The big spike between 1880 and 1890 contributes to our large subject strength in Reconstruction politics

 

Political cartoonist Dwane Powell donated his papers to the SHC in April 2014. Powell is a retired editorial cartoonist who spent most of his career working for the Raleigh News and Observer.  The Dwane Powell Papers, 1970-2016 feature some of Powell’s best cartoons from the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s. The drawings included below illustrate Powell’s views of an outdated and easily imitated Democratic party during the 1980’s (Figures 2 &3).

Figure 2: Powell places an old and grumpy donkey with an “NC Dems” pin in the Museum of Natural History, and has him being mistaken as a part of the exhibit. This seems to be a critique of the out of touch policies and positions of the Democratic party. The editorial was published on October 8, 1985. Item found in October 1986 folder in Box 8 of the Dwane Powell Papers #5589, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Figure 2: Powell places an old and grumpy donkey with an “NC Dems” pin in the Museum of Natural History, and has him being mistaken as a part of the exhibit. This seems to be a critique of the out of touch policies and positions of the Democratic party. The editorial was published on October 8, 1985. Item found in October 1986 folder in Box 8 of the Dwane Powell Papers #5589, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Figure 3: Drawing on the 1986 campaign for a North Carolina senate seat, Jim Broyhill is a Republican masquerading as a liberal, just like the valley is not a hill and a snail is not a jackrabbit. Broyhill's tactics were not so successful as the Democratic candidate Terry Sanford went on to beat him in a close race. This editorial was published on October 27, 1985. Item found in October 1986 folder in Box 8 of the Dwane Powell Papers #5589, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Figure 3: Drawing on the 1986 campaign for a North Carolina senate seat, Jim Broyhill is a Republican masquerading as a liberal, just like the valley is not a hill and a snail is not a jackrabbit. Broyhill’s tactics were not so successful as the Democratic candidate Terry Sanford went on to beat him in a close race. This editorial was published on October 27, 1985. Item found in October 1986 folder in Box 8 of the Dwane Powell Papers #5589, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Another example of North Carolina’s Democratic Party depicted in the Southern Historical Collection comes from the George Miller Papers, 1971-2000. George Miller served in the state legislature continuously from 1971 to 2000. He was a strong proponent of child safety restraints in cars, raising the state’s minimum drinking age to 21, and laws to promote organ donation. In perhaps his most notable contribution, Miller put forth the legislation to allow vehicles to turn right on a red light (Figure 4).

Figure 4: A scan of a photocopy of Miller's January 1975 bill to allow drivers to make right hand turns, "except where prohibited by appropriate sign" on red lights. Found in Box 1, Folder 1 in the George W. Miller Papers #5045, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Figure 4: A scan of a photocopy of Miller’s January 1975 bill to allow drivers to make right hand turns, “except where prohibited by appropriate sign” on red lights. Found in Box 1, Folder 1 in the George W. Miller Papers #5045, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The identity crisis in North Carolina’s Democratic Party can be further understood by comparing two party giants; U.S. Senator Sam Ervin Jr (1954-1974) and former governor (1961-1965) and U.S. Senator (1986-1993), Terry Sanford (Collins). In the 12 years between their respective seats in the Senate, our state Democrats turn from an outspoken defender of racial segregation (Ervin) to one of the architects of the North Carolina Fund (Sanford). The North Carolina Fund was a series of experimental programs designed to reach across racial lines and address issues related to poverty across the state. Some may wonder what could cause such dramatic political party shifts in a state like North Carolina. Some political scientists point to demographic changes beginning in the 1980’s. For example, people migrating from Northern states and Central and South America can explain how North Carolina could return to a Democratic majority and support a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 (Hood). This had not happened since Jimmy Carter in 1976. The article and dissertations alluded to below and the scholarship that supports them could provide great insight into the inner workings of the Democratic party during this time.

Hood, M. V., and Seth C. McKee. “What made Carolina Blue? In-Migration and the 2008 North Carolina Presidential Vote.” American Politics Research, vol. 38, no. 2, 2010, pp. 266-302.

Collins, Todd. “Competition from within the monopoly: ideological factions within the North Carolina Democratic Party; a case study of transition; Terry Sanford & Sam Ervin.” Dissertation, 1997.

Lastly, to add a contemporary human element to our look at North Carolina Democrats, we interviewed one of our recent collection donors and North Carolina democrat, Eleanor (Ellie) Kinnaird. Kinnaird was the mayor of Carrboro (1987-1995) and a state senator (1996-2013). She wants to be remembered for her work on death penalty reform, voter access expansion, human trafficking advocacy, and environmental justice issues. Kinnaird counts her father (a judge), former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, her professors at Carleton College, and involvement with the League of Women Voters, as her biggest inspirations for going into politics. At one point in our interview, Kinnaird states, “it was a great privilege to shape public policy. I can’t imagine doing anything more gratifying than serving.” She certainly is an inspiration to women in her community and great example of how policy can positively impact people’s lives.

Figure 5: Ellie Kinnaird and Bob Nutter at Maple View Farm, around 1997 from the personal collection of Senator Eleanor Kinnaird

Figure 5: Ellie Kinnaird and Bob Nutter at Maple View Farm, around 1997 from the personal collection of Senator Eleanor Kinnaird

 

Hopefully this peek through the Southern Historical Collection’s material on North Carolina Democrats (1960-2010) will encourage you to look beyond party lines when voting or trying to understand the contours of an election. Chances are that each candidate’s definition of what it means to be a part of that party will vary drastically. As always, we encourage you to come to the reading room, look through the haystack of archival collections in the SHC, and see what kinds of connections you can make!

 

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A Rare Gateway to an Untouchable Past: Oral Histories of Carrboro Mill Families

Between 1974 and 1978, the Chapel Hill Historical Society conducted interviews with men and women who had lived and worked in and around Chapel Hill and Carrboro during the early twentieth century. One of their first projects, “Generations of Carrboro Mill Families” consisted of 117 interviews with Carrboro residents and textile mill workers. The interviews were in response to the Carrboro Board of Alderman’s decision to tear down the original Carr Mill building. For a rather complicated, and long-winded reason, the Southern Historical Collection holds 40 of the 117 interviews conducted, both the audio cassette tapes and their 30-50 page typed transcripts. Question topics run the gamut, and there was a clear effort on the part of the Chapel Hill Historical Society interviewers to gather information about “everyday life.”

“Textile Mill, Greensboro” in the Bayard Morgan Wootten Photographic Collection #P0011, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
This image of a textile mill in Greensboro, NC shows a carding room ca. 1904-1954, probably similar to the one the interviewees describe from the mills in Carrboro.

Some of this work is captured in Valerie Quinney’s article, “Mill Village Memories” published in Southern Exposure in Fall 1980. Quinney was one of the interviewers from the Chapel Hill Historical Society in the 1970s. She offers a meaningful overview of the oral history collection and provides supportive context. Although she includes direct quotes, there’s value in the raw format of the interview collection that is worth pursuing.

This collection stood out for several reasons, one of which was the time period in which the interviews were conducted. Many of the interviewees were in their seventies or eighties when they were interviewed in the mid-1970s. In other words, most of these individuals were born in the early twentieth century, and some even in the late 1890s! The residents lived, worked, and played in a time that very few living souls today can accurately remember. Their voices are a rare gateway to what feels like an untouchable past. They share perspectives that keenly reflect the social, political, and regional environment of the time. For example, interviewer Lee Southerland sounded startled to hear Mrs. Lula Lacock doubt if women should be allowed to vote.[1] In several cases, interviewers asked the female interviewees how they felt about being women. The women seemed to struggle with the question, as if they had never formed an opinion on the matter.

Carrboro Mills Employee Picnic, 18 Sept 1954
“Carrboro Mills Employee Picnic” in the Roland Giduz Photographic Collection #P0033, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

The second striking feature of this collection is the lack of African American voice among the interviews. On the heels of the Civil Rights movement, one would expect the interviewers to ask questions about racial segregation as it existed in the early twentieth century. Indeed, many interviews contained questions of that nature, but the African American individuals of the past are left with white people to speak for them. Mrs. Leslie Bland, born in 1896 and raised in Carrboro recalled Mrs. Cindy Atwater, “a colored woman”, who took care of her as a child. Mrs. Bland described memories of Mrs. Atwater’s care, remembered loving her “like a mother”, and concluded with, “She was really faithful. And she wore a white rag tied over her head all the time.”[2] Another individual, “Aunt” Hannah Graffenreid was mentioned by many of the interviewees, yet we only learn that she traveled throughout the area as a midwife, and that she made good pound cakes.[3] Other African Americans, such as the janitor who had to disassemble Mr. J. Ralph Harding’s bed from the ceiling rafters at UNC Chapel Hill, remain nameless.[4] In her interview Mrs. Mabel Hill described an encounter with another unidentified African American man. Apparently, her music had inspired him to move to New York and join an orchestra. He told her husband, “I used to stand out in the street back of the theatre…I’d stand out there and listen every night of my life…I’ve stood out there in the rain.”[5] Who were these individuals? Where did they live? Who were their families? How did they feel about being African American? While their stories are not revealed, perhaps their absence in the record reflects an accurate picture of their marginalized past.

The third, and possibly the most critical characteristic of this collection is that it serves as an authentic representation of the pros and cons of using oral history to preserve and interpret history. The listener travels with Mrs. Flossie Campbell back to 1920s downtown Carrboro but is jolted back into April 1974 as her husband walks into the room and interrupts the tape. She whispers to her interviewer, “That’s my husband”, and then shouts in his direction, “Don’t fall over that cord!”[6] The tape has captured Mrs. Campbell’s attempt to explain the interview to her husband, and their dialogue ends with Mrs. Campbell shouting at Mr. Campbell to wear his hearing aid. In addition to providing a hilarious source of comic relief, this interruption reminds listeners that they are not reading a story. Rather, they are listening to a real person describe the memories of her life in her living room on 300 Elm Street in Carrboro, North Carolina in 1974. Although personal narratives are valuable, they leave out many pieces of the story.

Flossie Mann Campbell, interview by Valerie Quinney, in the Chapel Hill Historical Society’s Generations of Carrboro Mill Families Oral Histories #4205, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For all the cons that come with using historic memory, perhaps it is worth the connection listeners gain by hearing Mrs. Campbell’s voice, or her husband shouting questions at the interviewer, a connection only trumped by the power of hearing it in first person.

So in conclusion, how about a call to action? Celebrate the month of September by interviewing someone that remembers a time and place that is unknown to you. The Southern Oral History Program provides a very helpful resources page to get started. Or, be inspired by browsing their database of 5,000 interviews streamed online. The gateway to the past is open to us, if we only take a moment to stop and listen.

 

[1] Lula Johnson Lacock, interview by Brent Glass and Lee Southerland, February 6, 1975, p. 35.

[2] Leslie Bland, interview by Valerie Quinney, April 17, 1974, p. 28-29.

[3] Leslie Bland, interview by Valerie Quinney, April 17, 1974, p. 27-28.

[4] J. Ralph Harding, interview by H. P. Brinton, December 17, 1974, p. 5-6.

[5] Mabel Hill, interview by Hugh P. Brinton, April 7, 1975, p. 16.

[6] Flossie Mann Campbell, interview by Valerie Quinney, April 20, 1974, p. 11-12.

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Identity Intersections in the Spotlight: The Joan Little Case

In June of 1974, a 21-year-old black woman was placed in a Beaufort County jail on a breaking and entering charge. By August of that same year, she was on the run after one of her white jailers, Clarence Alligood, was found dead in her cell, stabbed multiple times with an ice pick and naked from the waist down. After a week on the run, Little turned herself in and what followed was a fascinating clash of southern mores, international topics of activism, and the dark truths about the American criminal justice system. On the 43rd anniversary month of the start of the ordeal, this post intends to highlight how the case is documented in the Southern Historical Collection, various interpretations of the material, and why it is a significant part of our manuscript collection.

Illustrated image of Joan Little from https://alchetron.com/Joan-Little-721496-W

The Southern Historical Collection has a small collection of materials on the Joan Little murder trial sold to us by James Reston Jr., a Creative Writing lecturer1 at UNC-Chapel Hill in March of 1976. Reston based his book, The Innocence of Joann Little: A Southern Mystery (1977) on this material. The collection includes transcripts of key witness testimonies from the defense and prosecution as well as news clippings and recorded interviews from significant participants in the trial. Reading through the transcripts, a researcher can put him or herself in the front seat of the courtroom. We learn how Alligood propositioned Joan repeatedly before the murder; we feel how Joan’s voice falters when she must relive her assault on the witness stand (Figure 1); we hear the crass interrogation as the prosecution tries to vilify Joan with assumptions about her sexual history and criminal lifestyle.

Figure 1: From page 44 of Joan Little’s testimony in Folder 1, James Reston Jr., Collection of Joan Little Materials #4006, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Although it is easy for general audiences to be drawn to this case because of its ties to racism, sexism, classism, the criminal justice system, and sexual assault – there is much more to unpack. Many scholars have delved deeper into the broader historical, legal, and societal issues that make this a landmark case. For example, in “She Ain’t No Rosa Parks: The Joan Little Rape-Murder Case and Jim Crow Justice in the Post-Civil Rights South”, Christina Greene discusses how we may not want celebrate Joan’s acquittal in a southern courtroom as a sign of progress too quickly. On page 429, she reminds us that many poor black women without the national attention or high caliber defense team are being crushed by the same systems that almost crushed Little.

Genna Rae McNeil’s article sums up many aspects of my interest in this case with her essay; The Body, Sexuality, and Self-Defense in State vs. Joan Little, in which she discusses the many important ways that Joan Little maintained her integrity and defended herself throughout the ordeal (p. 237). All accounts confirm that her personal life was challenging before her imprisonment (leaving home at an early age, not finishing high school, and falling in with a dangerous crowd) but she did not let those obstacles or how people may have perceived her control her future. She could have let that jailer rape her and follow through with her plans to get out of jail on bond for her breaking and entering charge in the weeks ahead. She could have fled the country when she escaped from jail, she certainly had enough lead time and connections to keep herself hidden for a long period. She could have fallen apart under the trauma of it all. She didn’t do any of these things, she fought for her life, she turned herself in, and in the trial, she withstood attacks on her character and spoke her truth (Figure 2). This woman embodies what it means to be free – which is probably why her story resonated with so many types activist groups.

Figure 2: From page 152 of Joan Little’s testimony in Folder 1, James Reston Jr., Collection of Joan Little Materials #4006, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

There is no doubt that the SHC curators in 1974 saw the widespread appeal of Reston’s archival materials on Joan Little. “Women’s groups saw it as a test of a woman’s right to self-defense in a sexual attack. Civil Rights groups looked to it as a test of Southern justice for blacks. Prison reform advocates supported it as an inmate’s rights issue (from staff & wire reports, N&O 08/18/1975)”. In addition to these papers, the trial is well documented in other Wilson Library resources. There are over 40 folders of content from the trial in the Hamilton Hobgood (judge) papers. Access to North Carolina newspapers from Beaufort and Wake Counties as well as others throughout the state can be found on microfilm in the North Carolina Collection. Bernice Johnson Reagon’s song about Joan Little is featured on a Sweet Honey in the Rock album in the Southern Folklife Collection. This woman and her trial represent an important episode in our collective histories and I would challenge all of us to consider what her story means to each of us and why it matters.

 

 

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LGBTQ Political Pioneer Joe Herzenberg

 “What was hope yesterday morning is now life for me”

Thanks to “The State of Things” on WUNC (North Carolina Public Radio) for inspiring today’s post with their conversation (also on Twitter) about the experiences of LGBTQ elected officials in North Carolina.

Joe Herzenberg was the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina in 1987. He served on the Chapel Hill Town Council until 1993, when it was revealed that he had not paid state income tax for the previous 14 years. His personal and political papers are held at the Southern Historical Collection (#5367); in addition to correspondence and photographs, the collection includes around 80 diaries written between 1954 to 2006.

His diary from when he was elected in the fall of 1987 (excerpts and images of which are included below) shows the excitement, emotional strain, and tedium of campaigning. Most entries include routine logs about his meals, reading list, and people he saw. Notes about significant personal and political events are written as casually as the mundane, making them both easy to overlook and all the more wonderful when found.

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Update: Women’s March Collecting

The Southern Historical Collection continues to work with the North Carolina Collection to document North Carolina’s involvement in the Women’s March this January; we thought an update on our efforts would be particularly appropriate on International Women’s Day!

Our recent focus has been material culture–the physical resources that were necessary for this “political performance” (a term described in further detail in a post from the National Council on Public History). Along those lines, we have been collecting a representative selection of items: handouts, a pink hat, protest signs (including the ones pictured in this post), and compassion sashes.

We’ve seen a few more items out there (links to examples):

If you know someone who has these, we would love to talk to them!


 

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Archiving the Women’s March

Like many other repositories, the Southern Historical Collection is interested in collecting information about recent local protests in response to national events. We are partnering with the North Carolina Collection to make this happen for the Women’s March that took place on January 21, 2017.

We will be collecting a limited number of items in the following three categories: social media, ephemera (signs, flyers, hats, etc), and images. Because posts and tweets disappear quickly, we are beginning with social media. Stay tuned for information about donating “stuff” and images!

On archiving social media:

Over the last few years, we have turned more of our attention to methods of archiving social media. We can’t capture everything, so we prioritize documenting moments and movements–phenomena that produce dynamic but ephemeral concentrations of information.

This spreadsheet shows the hashtags and social media sites we are capturing and will be updated as needed. Please comment on Facebook or send us an email if you know of any widely-used, location-specific hashtags or pages that we have missed.

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Soul City Film Screening Tonight on UNC-TV

Page of the Groundbreaking Ceremony Brochure from Soul City, NC, with a drawing of a cabin with faces of four people above it. Below is a imaginative description of the town and what it's goals are.

Page of the Groundbreaking Ceremony Brochure from Soul City, NC.

Soul City (Warren Co., NC) was established as a planned community in 1970s under the direction of civil rights leader Floyd B. McKissick. Disenchanted with the systemic suppression, poverty, and racism typical after migration to northern urban centers, he envisioned a “black owned, black built town” that offered families affordable housing, jobs, and healthcare. The project broke ground in 1973 with the help in $14 million in federal funding under the Urban Growth and New Community Development Act. The city quickly developed to include homes on spacious properties, industrial centers, paved roads, and water and sewerage systems; at its height, it was home to 200 people.

However, then-Senator Jesse Helms implemented a series of newspaper smear campaigns against the project, questioned the appropriate use of federal funds, and launched related governmental investigations. The active opposition of the state government and inadequate residential and employment achievements resulted in a complete withdrawal of federal funding in 1979. Without powerful private investors, the project could not continue as planned. McKissick’s children and several of the original residents still live in Soul City.

The documentary Soul City tells the story of the project through archival footage and interviews with residents, both past and present.

Watch the film tonight at 10 pm (EST) on UNC-TV. It can also be viewed here, through the UNC-TV site, for free until February 3rd.

In addition to the film, the story of Soul City has also been documented through oral history interviews, archival collections, and both popular and scholarly publications. Many of these resources are available online (see below).

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misstated the political office held by Jesse Helms during the Soul City controversy, incorrectly identifying him as “then-Governor Jesse Helms.” Helms was serving his first term as United States Senator at the time of Soul City’s 1973 groundbreaking. We have corrected this error.]

 

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October Has Come Again: Southern Literary Symposium

October 30 @ 2:00 pm4:30 pm
Hill Ballroom, Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill, NC

bookmark_october-592x1024

In his 1935 novel Of Time and the River, Thomas Wolfe wrote, “October had come again, and he would lie there in his mother’s house at night, and feel the darkness moving softly all about him, and hear the dry leaves scampering on the street outside, and the huge and burly rushes of the wind. And then the wind would rush away with huge caprice, and he could hear it far off roaring with remote demented cries in the embraces of great trees, and he would lie there thinking: October has come again—has come again.”

In honor of Wolfe’s birthday month, this literary symposium will feature a lecture by award-winning novelist and short story author Tony Earley followed by short readings from new works by Minrose Gwin, Randall Kenan, Mesha Maren, Julia Ridley Smith, and Monique Truong. These acclaimed authors will discuss the state of southern literature in the twenty-first century.

The symposium, co-sponsored by the Blythe Family Fund, the North Carolina Collection, the Southern Historical Collection, and Southern Cultures, will be held in the Hill Ballroom at the Carolina Inn from 2:00-4:30 pm. Admission is free and open to the public, but seating may be limited. Please RSVP here

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