We’re very excited by the recent launch of the North Carolina Biographical Index. This site is the result of nearly a half-century of careful indexing followed by at least a decade of data entry. The resulting database includes more than an eighth of a million citations to biographical sketches about North Carolinians and will be a great starting point for anyone studying North Carolina or North Carolinians.
We don’t usually go to Entertainment Weekly for literary news, but maybe we should. That magazine has just reported on an “exclusive” look at the new Random House catalog, which contains information on and a release date for Thirteen Moons, the long-awaited second novel from Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier. Thirteen Moons is due to appear in bookstores on October 3, 2006. Of course we couldn’t help but notice that October 3 is the birthdate of western North Carolina’s second-most-popular author, Thomas Wolfe.
Thelonious Monk is in the news, having just received a posthumous Pulitzer prize. We can’t let this opportunity pass without reminding our readers that Monk is a North Carolina native, born in Rocky Mount in 1917. He spent most of life in New York City and last performed in the state, according to the News & Observer, in 1970, with a ten-night stint at the Frog and Nightgown, a former jazz club on Medlin Drive in Raleigh.
Monk can be heard paired with another Tar Heel native on the landmark recently-discovered recording “Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall.” Coltrane was born in Hamlet, in Richmond County, in 1926.
Do you recognize the young man shown here? This is his senior photo, from the 1967 Yackety Yack, the UNC student yearbook. We’ll give you a hint. He was sworn in in Greensboro this afternoon as the new President of the University of North Carolina system. The Greensboro News-Record has the story.
If you guessed right, you’d likely do well in the “Who the Heel is That?” exhibit on display now in the North Carolina Collection reading room.
In the course of doing a little research on old North Carolina laws, we picked up a copy of The Office and Authority of a Justice of the Peace, and of Sheriffs, Coroners, &c. According to the Laws of the State of North-Carolina, a book published in New Bern in 1791. While this is a compelling read on its own, we were drawn to a handwritten note on the leaf opposite the title page. It reads
Rescued from death & destruction in a warehouse in Raleigh, Feb. 25, 1893. Will this book ever pass through such an experience again? Let him who reads these lines in 1993 if this book survives till then, ponder on human life & think if he ever heard of me.
Stephen B. Weeks
We have heard of Dr. Weeks. Fittingly, his memory endures in large part because of his collection of books just like this. The Weeks library held an impressive array of printed North Caroliniana and was one of the important early acquisitions of the North Carolina Collection. Weeks may have been modest in looking only a century into the future—his library and his legacy will almost certainly last to 2093 and beyond.
One of our favorite reference books is the North Carolina Filmography, an impressive volume compiled by Jenny Henderson and published by McFarland in 2002. The book contains entries for 2,203 movies, documentaries, and television programs shot in North Carolina between 1905 and 2000. It is indexed by location, enabling you to look up the many productions filmed in Wilmington or Asheville or Charlotte, or even the single film with scenes in Barnardsville (“Last of the Mohicans,” 1991).
We found plenty of North Carolina classics here, such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “Stroker Ace,” and of course we remembered when scenes for “Getting In” and “Patch Adams” were shot in Wilson Library, but there are lots of surprises to be found. Who knew that the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie was shot in Wilmington? Or that the train wreck scene from “The Fugitive” was filmed in Dillsboro?
We feel that lately we’ve been neglecting in this forum the fine literary efforts of North Carolinians. We want to correct that now by sharing a poem that we found in the Tarboro Free Press for January 27, 1827, following the announcement of the killing of a hog that at only two years old had reached the impressive weight of 535 pounds.
A hog is not a natural gift,
Although this was bad to lift;
It took seven blows to lay him flat,
But still he made a keg of fat.
Regrettably, the work is unsigned, thus leaving us no way of finding any other gems penned by this poet for the ages.
It’s baseball season again, and in the North Carolina Piedmont of about a century ago, that meant that all eyes would turn to the local mill teams. We found this picture of the Hutchison Mills team from Mount Holly, N.C. in the October 14, 1920 issue of Mill News, billed as “the great southern weekly for textile workers.”
There are a handful of recent histories of professional and semi-professional baseball in the Carolinas, but we were surprised that we couldn’t find any book-length discussions of the mill teams in North Carolina. There is a history of South Carolina’s mill teams: Thomas K. Perry’s Textile League Baseball: South Carolina’s Mill Teams, 1880-1955 (McFarland, 1993).
Many of the area’s teams are pictured in Chris Holaday’s Baseball in North Carolina’s Piedmont (Arcadia, 2002), part of the popular “Images of America” series. The prominence of the sport in and around the mill towns is well documented. In his book “My World Is Gone”: Memories of Life in a Southern Cotton Mill Town (Wayne State University Press, 2002), author George G. Suggs, Jr. devotes an entire chapter to baseball, writing, “Without a doubt, baseball was the sport that gripped the interest and imagination of workers in the Bladenboro Cotton Mills from the twenties through forties.”
This Month in North Carolina History
On the first of April 1899 the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company opened for business in Durham, North Carolina. The first month’s collections, after the payment of commissions, amounted only to $1.12, but from such beginnings North Carolina Mutual grew to be the largest African American managed financial institution in the United States.
Durham at the beginning of the twentieth century was fertile ground for the growth of such an enterprise. Forced out of politics by the successful “White Supremacy” political campaign of 1898, Durham’s African American leaders turned their talents to the business world instead. The African American community of Durham was relatively prosperous and enjoyed better relations with its white counterpart than prevailed in many other communities in the state. The idea of an insurance company, moreover, fit in naturally with a tradition among African Americans of self-help, mutual aid societies or fraternities. John Merrick, born into slavery in 1859, had become by the late 1890s a business success in Durham. Owner of half a dozen barber shops and a real estate business, Merrick was also a member of the Grand United Order of True Reformers, a mutual benefit society organized in Richmond in 1881 which had expanded into insurance and banking. In 1898 Merrick brought together six of Durham’s leading black business and professional men and organized North Carolina Mutual. Guided by the “triumvirate” of John Merrick, Dr. Aaron M. Moore, and Charles Clinton Spaulding, “The Company with a Soul and a Service” survived the hardship of its first years to achieve success and help make Durham’s reputation as a center of African American economic life.
Walter B. Weare. Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, c. 1973.
Employees of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company 1906: Susan V. Gille Norfleet, C.C. Spaulding, Sr., John Merrick. From the North Carolina County Photographic Collection #P0001, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.