The Big Drop

What do acorns, possums, and pickles have in common? Are they: 1) Ingredients in authentic North Carolina brunswick stew; 2) mascots of local high school football teams; or 3) items dropped by North Carolina towns on New Year’s eve?

Residents of Raleigh (acorn), Brasstown (possum), and Mt. Olive (pickle) would have had an easy time with this one. All three communities will ring in the New Year tonight by dropping an item representative of their local history and culture.

One Book, One State

Blood Done Sign My Name

Community reading activities seem to be popular nationwide, but we’re not aware of any “One Book, One State” programs. North Carolina might be coming close with Timothy Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name. Wake County has just selected the book for its 2006 “Wake Reads Together,” following close behind Rocky Mount’s pick of the same book for its “One Book, One Community” program. New Hanover County chose Blood Done Sign My Name for a similar program earlier this year, and the current crop of freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill read it over the summer.

Tyson’s compelling history of a racially-motivated murder in Oxford, N.C. in 1970 is interwoven with an honest autobiographical account. Blood Done Sign My Name is a great starting point for a community-wide discussion about race and how we remember the past. If North Carolina were to give “One Book, One State” a try, this book would be an excellent choice.

The Slaves’ New Year’s Day

Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a moving narrative of her childhood and early adulthood living as a slave in Edenton, N.C. In the chapter “The Slaves’ New Year’s Day,” Jacobs reminds her readers that New Year’s Day was among the most dreaded days of the year for African Americans in the antebellum South. On January 1, slaves were commonly hired out for the year, a process that often split families apart. Jacobs writes

O, you happy free women, contrast your New Year’s day with that of the poor bond-woman! With you it is a pleasant season, and the light of the day is blessed. Friendly wishes meet you every where, and gifts are showered upon you. Even hearts that have been estranged from you soften at this season, and lips that have been silent echo back, “I wish you a happy New Year.” Children bring their little offerings, and raise their rosy lips for a caress. They are your own, and no hand but that of death can take them from you.

But to the slave mother New Year’s day comes laden with peculiar sorrows. She sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may all be torn from her the next morning; and often does she wish that she and they might die before the day dawns. She may be an ignorant creature, degraded by the system that has brutalized her from childhood; but she has a mother’s instincts, and is capable of feeling a mother’s agonies.

The full text of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is available on Documenting the American South.

Ellen Foster at 15

One of the most memorable characters in North Carolina literature returns with the release today of The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons. Ellen Foster, Gibbons’s 1997 novel, opened with the unforgettable line: “When I was little I would think of ways to kill my Daddy.” The novel received national attention when it was selected for Oprah’s book club.

The Life All Around Me finds Ellen Foster at 15, applying for early admission to Harvard, thriving despite her troubled childhood, and still living in North Carolina.

Library Machinery

In reading through the North Carolina University Magazine from 1890, we found the following interesting announcement in the “Library Notes” column:

Students of the Latin and Greek Seminary have begun a card catalogue of the Classical Department in the Library. It is much to be desired that the first move towards providing what is now an absolute necessity may be followed by some determined effort on the part of the Faculty and Societies. There is, perhaps, no other library of thirty-four thousand volumes in the country without a card catalogue. Such a compilation is indispensible—a regular part of library machinery, as much so as the alcoves, the shelves, Poole’s Index, or Encyclopædia Brittanica.

Wilmington 1898 Race Riot Commission Report

The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission has just released a draft of its report on the violent uprising that ravaged Wilmington’s African American community in November 1898. The Commission was organized under legislation sponsored by two Wilmington legislators and charged with examining and reporting on what is now widely acknowledged to be the only coup d’etat in American history. Today’s Raleigh News & Observer and Wilmington Star-News have stories about the report’s findings.

N.C. Christmas Trees

White House Christmas Tree, 2005

An alert reader pointed out that in yesterday’s post we neglected to mention another agricultural product in which North Carolina is among the national leaders: Christmas trees. Indeed, the National Christmas Tree Association confirms that as of 2002 North Carolina was second in the nation in tree production, trailing only Oregon. If North Carolina is going to take the top spot, there’s a lot of catching up to do: in 2002 Oregon harvested nearly three and a half million more trees than North Carolina.

Although North Carolina does not produce the most Christmas trees, the state may have come up with this year’s most prominent one. The 2005 White House Christmas tree (pictured here) is an 18.5 foot Fraser Fir from a farm in Laurel Springs, N.C.

We’re Number One!

We’d heard recently that North Carolina produced more sweet potatoes than any other state. The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission is justly proud (see their website to join the NC Sweet Potato recipe club). This had us wondering whether there were other crops and agricultural products in which North Carolina led the nation. We checked the website for the National Agriculture Statistics Service and found that, as of 2001, we ranked first in turkeys and tobacco. North Carolina was second in hog production (behind Iowa), and a distant third in strawberries (behind California and Florida).


We try to acquire all of the latest barbecue literature, and have just received a copy of Wilber W. Caldwell’s Searching for the Dixie Barbecue: Journeys Into the Southern Psyche (Pineapple Pres, 2005).

The restaurants Caldwell visits are primarily in Georgia and Alabama, but there is a short discussion of the Red Pig Barbecue in Concord, N.C. We admire Caldwell’s scientific approach to his subject. In a comprehensive side dish survey of fifty restaurants, he found that the dishes that most commonly accompany barbecue are cole slaw, baked beans, and potato salad. At the bottom of the list we find rice, apple sauce, greens, and black-eyed peas. The numerical approach returns in the appendix which includes a “Funk Factor Rating Guide.” Searching for the Dixie Barbecue is nicely illustrated with black and white photographs of restaurants throughout the South.

North Carolina Festival for the Book

The schedule for the North Carolina Festival for the Book, coming to Duke this spring, is an impressive one. The festival, formerly the North Carolina Literary Festival, is a biennial event that rotates between Duke, North Carolina State, and UNC. The four-day event highlights North Carolina authors and readers, but will also bring in nationally-known writers including Tom Wolfe, Barbara Kingsolver, Pat Conroy, and Roy Blount, Jr.