The high cost of refusing to educate blacks

“Gov. Jonathan Worth, elected in 1865, had earlier in his career steered to passage the bill establishing public education in North Carolina, but he now persuaded the legislature to abolish the state school system altogether…. The governor feared that if white children were educated at public expense, ‘we will be required to educate the negroes in like manner.’

“To avoid having to expend public monies on black education, Worth and his legislature authorized localities to establish tax-supported private academies, risking, as one ally warned, ‘the entire alienation of the poorer class’ of whites, and destroying the South’s only extensive system of public education.”

— From “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (1988)

Can Rick Perry Learn to Love Real Barbecue?

Today’s News and Observer recalls Rick Perry’s reaction to North Carolina barbecue in 1992. “I’ve had road kill that tasted better than that,” Perry is alleged to have uttered during a cook-off pitting North Carolina’s finest against West Texas barbecue at the Republican National Convention in Houston. The N&O attributes Perry’s comment to Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed. Our crack research team (okay, it’s really just me) found the aforementioned quote in a story that the N&O‘s Bill Krueger filed from Houston on August 20, 1992. For your reading pleasure, here are a few more lines from Krueger’s dispatch.

Will King of King’s Restaurant in Kinston drove 24 hours to bring 500 pounds of pig for this cook-off. The sauce was his grandfather’s 46-year-old recipe. On the side were 15 gallons of Brunswick stew, 15 gallons of coleslaw and 1,750 hush puppies — the makings of a feast just like the one he staged for North Carolina Democrats at their national convention last month in New York.

“I certainly feel like mine is the superior product,” King said. Then he moved to dissociate himself from the kind of negative politicking practiced lately by Republicans and Democrats.

“I look forward to a fair and extremely friendly competition,” he said. “This is not about mudslinging.”

If bigger is better, as everyone in Texas seems to think, King was in trouble. His cooker looked positively scrawny up against the 5-by-24-foot monster that Joe Allen’s Barbecue and Catering of Abilene was using to fix 350 pounds of beef tenderloin and 450 ears of corn. Pinto beans were cooking in a 50-gallon pot….

About 400 Texas and North Carolina delegates and guests waited in long lines to sample both barbecues. Dozens of reporters hovered around to seek the delegates’ opinions while television cameras got pictures of them chowing down.

N.C. GOP Chairman Jack Hawke worried when he learned that one of the judges was writer Michael Kinsley of The New Republic.

“A liberal like that couldn’t understand pork barbecue,” Hawke said.

Sure enough, Kinsley sheepishly told a reporter that he preferred the Texas barbecue. “It’s spicier,” he said before ducking out to avoid having to announce his choice to the crowd.

Mel Stewart of Charlotte, who won the gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly at the Olympics in Barcelona, clearly didn’t think too much of the North Carolina barbecue. But he stuck to his roots.

“I’m a pretty loyal guy, so I’ll have to vote for North Carolina,” he said.

[Convention delegate Joel] Loya, the Abilene loyalist, wasn’t sure what to do with his North Carolina barbecue. He wondered whether he should mix it with his Brunswick stew. Then he asked how much sauce to put on it. When he tried it, though, he liked its tangy taste.

“I would give it an ‘A,'” he said. “This is great.”

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry was not impressed.

“I’ve had road kill that tasted better than that,” he declared.

But with party unity being such a big thing this week, Hawke and Texas GOP Chairman Fred Meyer worked out a deal.

They declared the contest a draw.

Here’s the question Rick Perry should expect from reporters on his next swing through the Old North State: When and why did you eat road kill?

A Baptist is a Baptist is a…well, maybe not

“I do not deny the virgin birth,” said Baptist Max Wicker, “and I do not affirm it. My mind is still open.” This statement of position did not satisfy the board of the Southern Baptist Church in North Carolina. After a six-hour hearing, the board dismissed from their jobs: Wicker, 39, secretary of the Baptist Student Union at Duke University; the Rev. J. C. Herrin, 29, Baptist Student Union secretary at the University of North Carolina, and the union’s state secretary, the Rev. James W. Ray, 39. Like Wicker, the others had been found too infirm in Baptist fundamentals….

Said one Baptist student: ‘Perhaps we students need to investigate some of our leaders for pettiness and prejudice.’ But most of the 500 Southern Baptists present thought… the young ministers were too ‘interdenominational’ for comfort. ‘I am told,’ said one minister angrily, ‘that a Jewish rabbi has been invited to speak at a Sunday night [student] forum.’ Added another: ‘A man who doesn’t believe in the virgin birth is no more a Baptist than the Pope of Rome.’ ”

— From Time magazine, April 12, 1954

Legislature pulls end-around on reporters

“Reporters have to battle a growing attitude on the part of state and local officers that public business is none of the public’s business. Last week North Carolina newsmen lost a round. When a vital Appropriations subcommittee, disregarding state law, denied them access to its budget hearings, capital reporters staged a sitdown in the hearing room.

“To dodge the reporters, the stymied committee rented a hotel room, met secretly there. Reporters heard about it, crowded outside the locked door. Committee Co-Chairman J. William Copeland stepped out to offer a compromise: He would let the newsmen in if they agreed not to report anything the committee wanted off-the-record. The reporters flatly rejected the proposal….

“Next day, by voice vote, the North Carolina legislature rammed through a law legalizing closed appropriations-committee hearings. Argued State Representative Oscar G. Barker, onetime Durham Herald staffer: ‘The law will set democracy back not less than 100 years in North Carolina.’ ”

— From Time magazine, April 6, 1953

A little something extra in their pay envelope

“The first state to offer birth control services through its public health program was North Carolina in 1937….

“The demographic characteristics of Southern blacks — high birth rates that were not lowered by increasing economic pressure — also described poor Southern whites, though to a slightly lesser degree, and state programs tried to bring birth control to them as well. North Carolina… persuaded several large textile mills, which employed mostly whites, to distribute slips in payroll envelopes telling workers that company nurses would provide contraception information.”

— From “The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America” by Linda Gordon (2002)

North Carolina Maps is award winning and still going strong

Coal fields of Chatham County map
This map depicting the coal fields of Chatham County and other mineral deposits in 1874 is the most recent addition to our North Carolina Maps online collection. It seemed as good a map as any to remind you that we’re still adding to the site. We’re now up to 3,395 maps.

We’re proud of the collection. And we’re particularly proud these days. On Friday North Carolina Maps was honored with a 2011 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. We’re pleased with the recognition. Although, truthfully, the most important acknowledgment comes from the many folks who’ve written to tell us about how they’ve used the maps from our site. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming.

‘Tar Heels’ just aren’t what they used to be

Generations of historians have labored to nail down the origin of “Tar Heel.” Less attention has been paid the alteration — shrinkage? corruption? —  of the term’s perceived meaning.

Most North Carolinians seem to have accepted the nickname, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, until mid-20th century — somewhere between the University of North Carolina’s redefining itself as a multicampus institution (1931) and Castleman D. Chesley’s introducing TV coverage of ACC basketball (1957).

Today the question “Are you a Tar Heel?” is likely to be met not by, say, “Born in Smithfield, live in Raleigh” but by “No, I went to State” or “I pull for the Deacons” or “Like hell, I’m a Duke fan.”

Have I got this right? And does anybody else see it as a loss to the vernacular?



Golden untarnished by revelation of prison record

On this day in 1958: In New York, Harry Golden’s publisher receives an anonymous letter asking, “Do you know that your author . . . is a swindler, a cheat, and an ex-con and jail bird who has victimized widows and orphans?”

In fact, almost no one knows that Golden, whose “Only in America” ranks No. 1 on the nonfiction best-seller list, is the Harry Goldhurst who served 4-1/2 years in a New York prison for mail fraud and stock manipulation. Golden was released in 1933 and in 1940 moved to Charlotte, where he became nationally known as publisher of the Carolina Israelite, an iconoclastic monthly, and as author of warm and witty memoirs.

The revelation about his prison record will not only prove harmless to Golden’s writing career but also expand his fame to television, where Jack Paar makes him a frequent guest on the “Tonight Show.”

What’s in a burger name? Potential for confusion

No date on this 3-inch pinback button, but the typography and the vaguely Space Age rendering of a pickle-topped hamburger suggest 1960 or so. (Is that cheese or lettuce squashed beneath the patty? Regardless, doesn’t it belong  on top?)

Surprisingly, this cluster of Concord-based What-A-Burger stores (not all of which survive) is unrelated to  either the Texas-based Whataburger chain or the Virginia-based What-A-Burger chain — though all three date back to the 1950s and specialize in jumbo burgers that compared with Big Macs might qualify as artisanal.


NC Wesleyan College Welcomes Lyndon Johnson to Rocky Mount

Looking through the collection of yearbooks from North Carolina Wesleyan College that were recently digitized by the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, I was interested in this photo, which shows a group of students welcoming President Lyndon Johnson to Rocky Mount in 1964, the visit that resulted in the now iconic photos of the President and Governor Terry Sanford sitting with a local family on the front steps of their rural home. (There’s a nice recap of the visit on the N&O website).

One of the larger signs in this photo says “Come Back Lynda.” I assume that’s referring to the President’s daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson. Why are they asking her to come back? Did she have a connection to Rocky Mount, or to North Carolina?