“As a teenager in 1960, Clyde Edgerton was trying to find a name for the doubts he was feeling about his conventional, small-town life in Bethesda, North Carolina.
“Then, a high school assignment offered up a tutor for life. Edgerton’s epiphany came while reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Nature’:
” ‘The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should we not have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? . . . The sun shines today also. . . . Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.’
“In Emerson, Edgerton found someone who let him know that questioning orthodox belief was not only acceptable, but vital. ‘My mind was set afire as if soaked in gasoline,’ Edgerton would recall many years later in an essay. ‘Emerson had served me up a bowl of intellectual rebellion at just the right time in my young life.’ The encounter steered Edgerton toward college [UNC Chapel Hill], which he had planned to skip, and onward to a successful career as the novelist behind such celebrated works as Raney and Walking Across Egypt.”
— From “Ralph Waldo Emerson: Beyond the Greeting Cards” by Danny Heitman in Humanities (May/June 2013)
“In 1790 the postal system transmitted just under 300,000 letters, or roughly one letter per year for every 10 inhabitants of the United States, excluding Indians and slaves. … By 1856 the comparable total had increased to around 130 million, or 5.3 letters per free person per year.
“No less notable was the regional variation. In 1856, in North Carolina, the average inhabitant sent 1.5 letters per year; in Indiana, 3; in Louisiana, 5.5; in Massachusetts, 10…. On average, urban Americans wrote between 5 and 20 times as many letters as rural Americans….”
— From “Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse” by Richard R. John (2009)
“For ‘the first time in the States,’ wrote English correspondent William Howard Russell as his train crossed into North Carolina in 1861, ‘I noticed barefooted people’ and ‘poor broken-down shanties or loghuts’ filled with ‘paleface… tawdry and ragged’ women and ‘yellow, seedy-looking’ men.”
— From “Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction” by Allen C. Guelzo (2012)
Nor does the view seem to have improved much by 1865.
At least Frederick Law Olmsted, in his 1856 classic “A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States,” had blamed the “ignorance and torpidity” of North Carolinians on poor soil and inadequate roads and schools, rather than on “any innate quality of the popular mind.”
“While living in Durham, N.C., back in the 1980s, I met a guy who was studying creative writing at Duke University. I have come to think of him as the doomed acolyte. One day he told me that his teacher, venerable Reynolds Price, rolled into the classroom in his wheelchair and gave the class a curious assignment. Price told the students they were not to touch the short stories they were working on for the next week. Don’t change a single word. Don’t add or delete a comma. Don’t even look at your stories.
“When the class reconvened the following week, Price asked how many had fulfilled the assignment. About half of the students, including the doomed acolyte, raised a hand. Price then stunned the room by advising those who were able to follow his instructions that they should consider dropping out of the course. His reasoning was brutal and simple: Anyone who is able to stop writing for an entire week — even for a single day — does not have the right stuff to become a writer. True writers, Price was saying, are in the grip of a compulsion. They have to write, and they are powerless to stop doing it. It is why they are alive and it is what keeps them alive.”
— From “Can Writers Retire? Let Us Count the Ways” by Bill Morris at themillions.com (Feb. 7, 2013)
Will D. Campbell, a towering and inimitable figure in the civil rights movement and the inspiration for the character of Will B. Dunn in Doug Marlette‘s “Kudzu” comic strip, died Monday in Nashville. He was 88.
Pictured: A pinback button promoting ” ‘I Am Not a Televangelist!’ “ a 1988 collection of “Kudzu” strips.
My first recollection of The State magazine was around Christmas time 1948 when I was visiting my grandmother. She knew that Charlie Justice was my hero, so she had saved for me her copy of the December 4th issue, which featured a Hugh Morton cover picture of Justice following the ‘48 UNC vs. Duke game. I have been a fan of the magazine ever since that day.
At that time, the magazine was already 15 years old, but it was new to me and I didn’t know that there had been a previous cover with a photograph of Justice by Morton about a year before. (I was able to get that earlier issue about 5 years later when I was working on a fund-raising scrap paper drive)…
–from Jack Hilliard’s remembrances of Our State magazine. The magazine is celebrating its 80th year of publishing. Hilliard is a former director for WFMY-TV in Greensboro and a frequent blogger on the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archive’s View to Hugh blog. You can read Hilliard’s full post, complete with many cover images from Our State , here.
“Charles Stedman, a North Carolina Congressman… in January 1923 introduced a Mammy monument bill on behalf of the Jefferson Davis Chapter of the UDC.
” ‘They desired no change in their condition of life,’ Stedman said of the faithful slaves who would be honored. ‘The very few who are left look back at those days as the happy golden hours of their lives.’
“Stedman added that the bill ‘should find a responsive echo in the hearts of the citizens of this great Republic.’ It did, at least in the Senate, which voted for a land grant in the capital, so the UDC could erect the monument as ‘a gift to the people of the United States.’ The next day’s Washington Post printed only a two-paragraph item, noting that the Senate had approved three monuments: to baseball, to a ‘former District commissioner,’ and to ‘faithful colored mammies’…
“But the monument bill had to pass a House committee before it could be enacted…. Petitions and letters poured into the offices of politicians and newspaper, including one presented by 2,000 black women…. The women’s auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic condemned the monument as a ‘sickly sentimental proposition,’ and suggested the money would be better spent on ‘bettering conditions of the mammy’s children.’
“Congress adjourned without taking any further action…. And the Mammy statue quietly joined the ranks of monuments in the capital that were never built, including a towering ‘Mother’s Memorial’ and a plan for the Washington Monument that depicted the first president in a carriage atop 30 columns.”
— From “The Mammy Washington Almost Had” by Tony Horwitz in The Atlantic (May 31)
When Charles Manly Stedman died in 1930, he was the last Confederate veteran still serving in Congress.