African Americana in the North Carolina Collection

“We stand on the shoulders of giants.” This sentiment has been expressed so many times that it is now a cliche, but it is a phrase that comes to mind when I look through the out-of-print book catalogs that cross my desk. I felt this most recently when I studied the latest list of African Americana from Bibliomania, a California book dealer.

I expected the North Carolina Collection to have The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt by William Andrews (Louisiana State University Press, 1980), but it was a happy surprise to find that we have two more obscure titles offered by Bibliomania. The Silent Murder, by Mildred Evelyn Miller (Exposition Press, 1977) is a novel set in North Carolina that follows the struggles of a good woman whose life is scarred by the alcoholism of her husbands. William H. Frazer’s The Possumist and Other Stories (Murrill Press, 1924) is an example of a type of literature that many people are no longer comfortable with: dialect stories written by a white author that purport to offer an accurate view of African American speech and thought. Good, bad, sad, scholarly–all of these books have their place in the North Carolina Collection as examples of the cultural heritage of this state in the twentieth century.

May 1908: Statewide Prohibition

This Month in North Carolina History

"The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow on a State Redeemed from the Whiskey Evil--Saloons and Dispensaries will be Hunting for a City of Refuge," from the News and Observer, May 26, 1908.
“The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow on a State Redeemed from the Whiskey Evil–Saloons and Dispensaries will be Hunting for a City of Refuge,” from the News and Observer, May 26, 1908.

On May 26, 1908, by a referendum vote of 62% to 38%, North Carolina became the first southern state to enact statewide prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

The temperance movement of the antebellum period expressed the concern of many North Carolinians about the social consequences of what was perceived as the wide-spread abuse of wine, beer, and liquor, but the prohibition law of 1908 was the product of a more focused and organized movement which grew in the years following the Civil War. Increasingly after 1865, opposition to the traffic in liquor became a crusade against the saloon, which was depicted as a source of evil and corruption. New or revived organizations such as the Friends of Temperance, the Independent Order of Good Templars, and, most importantly, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, pressed the state legislature for more control over the sale and consumption of alcohol.

The North Carolina General Assembly responded to the pressure in several ways. The sale of alcohol was forbidden near churches or schools. Townships were permitted to call special elections to decide whether or not to allow the licensing of liquor sales in the township, and special legislation prohibited alcohol in specific towns and counties. In 1881 the prohibition forces felt strong enough to seek a state-wide ban on alcohol through a referendum. They had not counted, however, on the strength of the opposition and the proposition failed by a vote of slightly better than three to one.

Over the next twenty years the dry forces improved their organization and allied themselves closely with the Methodist and Baptist Churches which supported prohibition strongly. They were materially aided by the disfranchisement of African Americans in North Carolina after the “White Supremacy” campaigns of the Democratic Party in 1898. With African Americans barred from voting, Democrats no longer feared splitting the white vote over a volatile issue like prohibition. In 1902 the creation of the Anti-Saloon League brought together many of the strands of the prohibition movement into a strong, politically oriented organization.


In 1908 the General Assembly called for a referendum on prohibition which, after an active campaign, the dry forces won.The manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in North Carolina thus ended eleven years before the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution brought prohibition to the entire country.

Daniel Jay Whitener, Prohibition in North Carolina, 1715-1945. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1945.

Clarence Hamilton Poe, The Case for Prohibition in North Carolina. Raleigh, NC: Mutual Publishing Co., [19–?].

Image Source:
The Sun Will Rise Tomorrow on a State Redeemed from the Whiskey Evil–Saloons and Dispensaries will be Hunting for a City of Refuge.” News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), 26 May 1908. North Carolina Collection.