James Baldwin, Dorothy Counts — and Brian Williams?

The story is often told (by me, among others) that it was a news photo of Dorothy Counts desegregating Harding High School that motivated James Baldwin to return to the U.S. from Paris.

In fact, that’s what Baldwin himself wrote. Impossible, says Douglas Field in “A Historical Guide to James Baldwin” (2009):

“After living in France for nine years, Baldwin decided to return to the United States in 1957…. By the time Baldwin wrote ‘No Name in the Street’ (1972), he would trace this decision to a moment in the fall of 1956 when he was covering the first International Conference of Black Writers and Artists, at the Sorbonne, in Paris for Encounter. On the way to lunch with Richard Wright and other black writers from the conference, Baldwin writes that they were faced with newspaper images of ‘fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts being reviled and spat upon by the mob as she was making her way to school in Charlotte, North Carolina.’

“In fact, this recollection is historically inaccurate, because Dorothy Counts would not be reviled and spat upon for another year, not long before Baldwin arrived in Charlotte to cover the desegregation struggle….”

Although the Brian Williams affair has cast a spotlight on the unreliability of memory, conflation is obviously not a new phenomenon.


Omar ibn Said found Christianity, if not freedom

“….Muslims arrived here before the founding of the United States — not just a few, but thousands.

“They have been largely overlooked because they were not free to practice their faith [and] to leave records of their beliefs. They left just enough to confirm that Islam in America is not an immigrant religion lately making itself known, but a tradition with deep roots here, despite being among the most suppressed in the nation’s history….

“Among the enslaved Muslims in North Carolina was a religious teacher named Omar ibn Said. Recaptured in 1810 after running away from a cruel master he called a kafir (an infidel), he became known for inscribing the walls of his jail cell with Arabic script. He wrote an account of his life in 1831, describing how in freedom he had loved to read the Quran, but in slavery his owners had converted him to Christianity….”

‘A practical difficulty arose. The jail was locked up….’

“The stores [in Burnsville] were closed and the two churches also, this not being the Sunday for the itinerant preacher. The jail also showed no sign of life, and when we asked about it, we learned that it was empty, and had been for some time. No liquor is sold in the place, nor within at least three miles of it. It is not much use to try to run a jail without liquor.

“In the course of the morning a couple of stout fellows arrived, leading between them a young man whom they had arrested,– it didn’t appear on any warrant, but they wanted to get him committed and locked up. The offense charged was carrying a pistol; the boy had not used it against anybody, but he had flourished it about and threatened, and the neighbors wouldn’t stand that; they were bound to enforce the law against carrying concealed weapons.

“The captors were perfectly good-natured and on friendly enough terms with the young man, who offered no resistance, and seemed not unwilling to go to jail. But a practical difficulty arose. The jail was locked up, the sheriff had gone away into the country with the key, and no one could get in…. The prisoner and his captors loafed about the square all day, sitting on the fence, rolling on the grass, all of them sustained by a simple trust that the jail would be open some time….”

— From “On Horseback: A Tour in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee”  by Charles Dudley Warner (1885)

By the time Charles Dudley Warner arrived, North Carolina had already been trenchantly described by visitors such as Fanny Kemble (1838), Frederick Law Olmsted (1856), William Howard Russell (1861) and Sidney Andrews (1865). But Warner took a different tack, viewing the natives with amusement, wit and generosity.

His knack for observation wasn’t limited to his travel writing. Although the quote is often credited to his friend and sometime coauthor Mark Twain, Warner apparently was first to comment that “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”


The Perley A. Thomas Car Works of High Point, NC


In 1910 Canadian-born Perley A. Thomas moved with his family from Cleveland, Ohio, to High Point to take a job as chief engineer, draftsman and designer for the Southern Car Works. When that business closed shop in 1916, Thomas organized his own company, the Perley A. Thomas Car Works, to convert open streetcars to closed streetcars for the Southern Public Utility Company in Charlotte. The ensuing years brought great success to Thomas’s company, first, in the manufacture of streetcars, and, later, with the rise in the popularity of road travel, in the manufacture of buses. In 1998 the company, which changed its name to Thomas Built Buses in 1972, was sold to Freightliner, a major American truck manufacturer. At the time of the sale, Thomas Built was the second largest manufacturer of school buses in the United States. It is now the largest.

Read about an order the Montgomery, Alabama Light and Traction company placed for streetcars in the September 29, 1919 issue of the High Point Review. For an in depth look at the company’s history, read From Rails to Roads: The History of Perley A. Thomas Car Works and Thomas Built Buses.

Meat makes the recipe!

USED 2-5-15 Meats Poem - Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs Favorite Recipes

Meats poem from Favorite recipes.

USED 2-5-15 Ham Loaf with Vegetables - Gourmet...Eating

Ham Loaf With Vegetables from Recipes for gourmet eating : a compilation of favorite tested recipes of housewives of Greenville and out of town friends.

USED 2-5-15 Hot Cha Chas - Bone Appetit

Hot Cha Chas from A book of favorite recipes.

USED 2-5-15 Pork Hash - Mario Tailgates

Pork Hash from Mario tailgates NASCAR style.

USED 2-5-15 Salem Cotton Co.'s Duck Stroganoff-North Carolina's Historic Restaurants and their recipies

Salem Cotton Co.’s Duck Stroganoff from North Carolina’s historic restaurants and their recipes.

USED 2-5-15 Can-Can Chicken - Supper's at Six

Can-Can Chicken from Supper’s at six and we’re not waiting!

USED 2-5-15 Lean Cranberry Pot Roast - Count Our Blessings

Lean Cranberry Pot Roast from Count our blessings : 75 years of recipes and memories / Myers Park Presbyterian Church.


‘By far the most flourishing institution in N.C….’

On this day in 1869: The Philanthropic Society of Davidson College invites President Andrew Johnson to speak at commencement ceremonies:

“Since the decline of the State University, Davidson is by far the most flourishing institution in North Carolina. Our Chapel is said to be the largest in the South, and should you be pleased to honor us with your presence, we assure you that you will have as an audience, this chapel filled with the best and most intelligent of North Carolina’s citizens.”

Johnson declines.


Gastonia’s marker dispute — and Greensboro’s

“In 1986, a state proposal to erect a historical marker [to recognize the 1929 Loray Mill strike] failed because Gastonia officials objected to the wording.

“They wanted to omit any mention of the deaths in the strike and include a reference about local citizens defeating ‘the first Communist efforts to control southern textiles.’ The state didn’t like the alternate wording and shelved the project.

“Attitudes changed. In 2007 Gastonia officials asked the state to reopen the proposal — with the same text the state had originally wanted.”

— From “Saving Gastonia’s Loray Mill by Joe DePriest, reprinted from the Charlotte Observer (July 5, 2012)

Does the proposed “Greensboro Massacre” marker face a similar decades-long mothballing? Or is City Council about to come up with an acceptable compromise?