N.C. women came through for Union POWs

On this day in 1865: Prisoner of war A.O. Abbott, first lieutenant in the 1st N.Y. Dragoons, records the POW train’s stop in Goldsboro, en route to Wilmington:

“There was also a camp of enlisted men about a mile from us, and they were suffering all it was possible for them to suffer and live. Many of them did not live. Some of the ‘ladies,’ God bless them, loyal women of North Carolina, heard of the sufferings of these poor men, and, regardless of the ‘order’ of the commandant of the post, visited them, ministering to their wants as best they could.

“Some of them came eight miles on foot, through the mud and wet. And one old lady and her two daughters came in an ox cart, twenty miles, to do what they could.”

A black and white photo like none before


“To combat agricultural depression and the hand-to-mouth cash crop system, North Carolina has  been conducting what its able Governor Oliver Max Gardner calls a ‘Live-at-Home’ campaign. The economic theory is that the home-living husbandman raises his own food and feed, patronizes local production plants, reduces his dependence upon extrastate sources of supply. [Included in the campaign] was an essay contest among 800,000 North Carolina school children. Last week Governor Gardner awarded prizes in the House of Representatives.

“Before him, crowded cheek to jowl, sat whites and blacks, men and women, boys and girls, for the ‘Live-at-Home’ movement included Negroes. Newsmen remarked with astonishment upon the sudden evaporation of race prejudice. Negroes spoke from the same rostrum as Governor Gardner about the ‘recovery of their race’s self-respect.’

“To Leroy Sossamon, blond and blue-eyed, of Bethel High School and to Ophelia Holley, chocolate brown, Governor Gardner awarded two silver loving cups for their essays. Then, with them, he walked out before the statue of Governor Charles Brantley Aycock to be photographed. His political friends, suddenly apprehensive, reminded him that no southern Governor had ever had his picture taken publicly with a Negro, warned him that such a photograph would be used against him in future campaigns. Undaunted, Governor Gardner ranged the black girl on his right and the white boy on his left, ordered the photographer to proceed. Said he: ‘If I ever get into politics again, I’ll use this picture for myself.’ ”

— From Time magazine, July 7, 1930

Jump-starting Jugtown broke with tradition

“It was disgusting, but you learned to expect to lose a certain amount of pottery. I don’t know why people thought there’s nothing could be done about it. If you grow up thinking that is the way it is, then you accept it. It’s a funny thing that people have made pottery around here for years and years, and they still didn’t have any idea about any technical thing about it. They just dug clay and turned pots. …

“Till the late 1960s I didn’t really care that much….You could lose some and still get enough money to eat, so — let it break. I just made pottery cause Daddy made pottery, you know, and I didn’t put any value whatsover on it. ”

— Vernon Owens, quoted in “Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition” by Nancy Sweezy (1984)

Sweezy, who in 1968 took on the revival of the moribund Jugtown pottery tradition, died Feb. 6 in Cambridge, Mass. She was 88.

My expertise is limited to the chicken pie dish in our kitchen cabinet, but I’ve always been fascinated by Jugtown’s confluence of tradition and innovation, craft and commerce. One of many changes under Sweezy’s stewardship: clay mixtures less prone to breakage.

‘I am unwilling, as a Southern man….’

EY Webb copy

“Nature destined woman to be the home maker, the child rearer, while man is the money maker.

“I am unwilling, as a Southern man, to force upon her any burden which will distract this loving potentate from her sacred, God-imposed duties. I am unwilling to force her into the vortex of politics, where her sensitiveness and her modesty will often be offended.”

— Congressman E. Y. Webb of Shelby, speaking against the proposed women’s suffrage amendment (1915)

Off to the Races Again with NC Postcards

Long before NASCAR, North Carolina established its reputation for being a state that took racing seriously.  In the 18th and 19th Centuries, horse racing in North Carolina was a serious endeavor.   Great race horses like Sir Archie (whose descendant was Secretariat) made the state the locus of racing in the South.  While horse racing in North Carolina declined after the Civil War, it still remained fairly popular.  The card below (ca. 1905-1915) shows a horse race at Pinehurst.


Stock car racing and NASCAR had its roots in bootlegging during Prohibition.  Today, Charlotte is a major hub for the sport, and the card below shows the Charlotte Motor Speedway (ca. 1940-1960).


In the late 1940s, two dog racing associations opened in Morehead City and Moyock.  They were popular until the North Carolina Supreme Court outlawed them in 1953.  Below is a postcard from 1950, showing the Greyhound Rack Track at Morehead City, NC.


While these represent some of North Carolina’s more iconic forms of racing, a quick search in the NC Postcards website returns views showing all kinds of races, by land and by sea:

footrace sackrace

(L) Foot race in Mount Airy; (R) Sack race at Wrightsville Beach

sailrace canoerace

(L) Sail boat race at Wrightsville Beach; (R) Canoe race at Wrightsville Beach

Where there’s smoke, there’s… steam

“In 1942 the North Carolina crowd at Reynolds Tobacco invaded American Tobacco’s headquarters town and put up a huge sign for Camel in Times Square. Overnight it became the nation’s most famous billboard.

“Two stories high and running half a block… the sign had just three elements: the brand name, its old slogan ‘I’d Walk a Mile for a Camel’ and the  head and shoulders of an American serviceman — a soldier one season, a sailor the next, an airman the one after that — who had for a mouth a perfectly round hole about a yard wide. Behind the hole was a chamber with a synthetic rubber backing that a cam would pull taut as the chamber filled with piped-in steam; a second gear would then cause the elastic membrane to relax with a whooshing sound and propel out the hole several times a minute a perfect simulated  smoke ring that would grow to about 15 feet in width as it wafted over the heart of the nation’s premier entertainment district. Countless millions gawked at the Camel ‘smoking’ sign during the 25 years it remained in place, serving as the prototype for some two dozen smaller versions around the country.”

— From “Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris” (1996) by Richard Kluger

Although a 1999 New York Times obituary of Douglas Leigh, who designed the Camel billboard (and many other Times Square “spectaculars”), refers to its having been “duplicated in 22 other cities,” San Francisco is the only one I’ve been able to confirm. Might North Carolina have had one or more?

New Agriculture Pathfinder–Just in Time for Spring


North Carolina’s agricultural roots run deep, and we have unveiled a new pathfinder called “Agriculture in North Carolina” in our research guides to outline the maps, magazines, pamphlets, postcards, and histories related to the state’s rich agricultural history.  The pathfinder covers industries that are known successes, such as hog farming, but also industries such as peanut farming (Actually, North Carolina ranks third in the nation in this crop production.).  Sections about the State Fair, farmers’ markets, plantation life, education, and women and agriculture are also featured.  If you’re interested in anything and everything having to do with North Carolina agriculture, this is a great place to get started!

Dismal Swamp Canal


The Dismal Swamp Canal opened in 1805, and was the first man-made waterway in America.  The canal, which runs between Deep Creek, VA, and South Mills, NC, has a rather long and storied history:  Discussions between North Carolina and Virginia regarding the construction of the canal began as early 1730.  Several founding fathers weighed in on the matter, including Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. Construction began in 1793, working from both the Virginia and North Carolina ends.  In 1805, they met in the middle and the canal was completed.

The canal played a role in the War of 1812, but later faced competition from the railroads and was almost destroyed in the Civil War.  In the late 19th Century, the canal developed a reputation as a haven for elopers, runaway slaves, and outlaws.

Lena Horne: Too hot for Durham to handle

“In Durham, North Carolina, the Morning Herald ran an ad for the [local premiere of the 1946 movie ‘Ziegfeld Follies’]. It listed [Lena] Horne among the players. Scores of black patrons bought tickets for the first showing — and saw a jagged splice where [her rendition of] ‘Love’ should have been.  Many of them complained angrily and asked for refunds. Within 24 hours, Horne’s name had vanished from ads. The Pittsburgh Courier tried to investigate, but no one would take responsibility.”

— From “Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne” (2009) by James Gavin