Tar Heels on the Supreme Court

Justice James Iredell by Willis Whichard We’ve recently discussed a couple of North Carolinians — George Badger and John J. Parker — who failed to be confirmed by the Senate after being nominated for the Supreme Court. We should point out that not every Tar Heel proposed for the Court has met with this fate. It’s just been a little while since one of our fellow North Staters has been confirmed. James Iredell was the first Supreme Court Justice from North Carolina, serving on the court from 1790-1799. After the death of Iredell, New Hanover County native Alfred Moore was nominated by President John Adams and confirmed by the Senate. Moore sat on the Court until 1804.

Iredell is the subject of a recent biography by Willis P. Whichard (Justice James Iredell, published by Carolina Academic Press, 2000). There is still no full-length biography of Moore, but interested readers can look to a shorter sketch by Robert Mason, Namesake: Alfred Moore, 1755-1810, Soldier and Jurist, published by the Moore County Historical Association in 1989.

November 1979: Greensboro Killings

This Month in North Carolina History

image of Southern Struggle special edition
On November 3, 1979, members of the Communist Workers Party (known then as the Worker’s Viewpoint Organization) sponsored a rally at Morningside Homes, a housing project in Greensboro. Billed Klan Kills Five Headlineas a “Death to the Klan Rally,” the demonstrators gathered to speak out against what they saw as continued racial injustice in North Carolina.
A group of self-proclaimed Klansmen and Nazis attended the rally and fired upon the crowd, killing five people and wounding nine. Much of the violence was captured on film by reporters who were covering the event.

The men accused of firing on the crowd were apprehended and charged with murder. In November 1980 a jury found them not guilty on the grounds of self-defense. After extensive FBI inquiries into the killings, the case was reopened and, in 1983, nine people were indicted for conspiracy to violate the protesters’ civil rights. Again, the defendants were acquitted.

In addition to their outrage at the violence in their community, many people in Greensboro blamed the police department for failing to act promptly enough to prevent the killings. The frustration in the community continued to grow as the courts failed to convict anyone for the shootings.cover to "They Died Fighting..."

At the twentieth anniversary of the killings in 1999, it was clear that tensions in Greensboro still ran high and that there were many unresolved feelings and accusations surrounding the case. A Truth & Reconciliation Commission, modeled on similar projects in South Africa, was established in 2004. The Commission began holding public hearings on the 1979 killings, operating under the principle that the community cannot begin to heal until the events of the past are honestly and openly confronted. The final report of the Commission is due in 2006.

Elizabeth Wheaton, Codename GREENKIL: The 1979 Greensboro Killings. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

“The Third of November.” Southern Exposure, vol. 9 no. 3 (Fall 1981), pp. 55-67.

Greensboro Truth & Reconciliation Commission

Greensboro Truth & Community Reconciliation Project
http://www.gtcrp.org/ (available via the Wayback Machine)

Image Source:
Southern Struggle (Special Edition), vol. 37 no. 6 (November-December 1979). Greensboro Massacre Materials, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“They Died Fighting Rather Than Live As Slaves.” Card produced by the Committee to Avenge the Greensboro-CWP 5, [1979]. Greensboro Massacre Materials, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Greensboro Killings, 1979

The latest This Month in North Carolina History feature looks at the events of November 3, 1979, when members of the Communist Worker’s Party clashed with the Ku Klux Klan in Greensboro. The current work of groups like the Greensboro Truth & Reconciliation Commission reminds us that our history is more than dry details and dates relegated to textbooks, that in fact it is a vital part of the world we live in today.

George Badger

George E. Badger“While there may be some question as to who should be regarded as the greatest North Carolinian, certainly in a list of the five greatest, the name of George E. Badger should be included.”

We’ll bet he wasn’t on your list. That quote, and the portrait, are from volume seven of Samuel Ashe’s Biographical History of North Carolina, published in 1908. Badger (1795-1866), a native of New Bern, held a number of government posts, including Secretary of the Navy under William Henry Harrison. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1846.

We ran across Badger in researching North Carolinians who had been nominated to the Supreme Court. In 1853, President Millard Fillmore nominated Badger to fill a seat left vacant by the death of Justice John McKinley. The discussion over Badger’s nomination focused on his views on a strong federal government and slavery. Southern, pro-slavery Democrats ultimately turned against Badger, a Whig, and his nomination was defeated by a vote of 26-25. After leaving the Senate in 1855, and with the demise of the Whig party, Badger did not hold another prominent position in government.

Yardley on Franklin

Jonathan Yardley reviews Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin in yesterday’s Washington Post. Franklin, currently Professor Emeritus of History at Duke and one of the nation’s pre-eminent historians, has a long connection with North Carolina. His doctoral dissertation at Harvard was on free African Americans in antebellum North Carolina and was later published by the UNC Press in 1943 as The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860. Franklin has taught at a number of colleges and universities including North Carolina Central.

Jonathan Yardley is a Tar Heel himself, a 1961 graduate of the University of North Carolina, and former editor of the student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel.

John J. Parker

The recent political skirmishes over Supreme Court nominees bring to mind the case of John Johnston Parker, which shows, if anything, that getting onto the nation’s highest court has never been an easy task.

Parker (1885-1958) was a native of Monroe, N.C. He was a successful lawyer and an active member of the Republican party, which put him firmly in the minority in the then staunchly Democratic state. Parker worked for the U.S. Attorney General’s office and served as a judge on the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals before being nominated in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover to the Supreme Court.

Although widely considered an able jurist, Parker quickly drew the ire of organized labor and the NAACP. Labor interests opposed his nomination due to a decision he’d made on the appeals court that limited union organizing, while the NAACP pointed to comments he’d made in a gubernatorial campaign a decade earlier that were perceived to be racist. It was a close fight, and one that did not fall strictly along party lines. When the vote came before the Senate, Parker’s nomination was defeated by a vote of 41-39.

Tar Heel Cookery

North Carolina cooking is getting lots of attention these days. UNC Press has recently published Marcie Cohen Ferris’s Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South and Mildred Council’s Mama Dip’s Family Cookbook. Another well-known Chapel Hill chef, Bill Smith, has just come out with Seasoned in the South: Recipes from Crook’s Corner and from Home.

Naturally, we started to wonder how all of this began and searched our catalog for the oldest North Carolina cookbook that we could find. We came up with the book The Family Token, or Book of Practical Arts and Sciences, by “An Eminent Physician,” published in Greensboro in 1854. There is an impressive amount of information in this slim volume. It contains not only recipes, but home remedies and moral advice. Thus, not only can you learn how to roast mutton and fowls, the author gives advice on treating a common sore throat (gargle salt, vinegar, pepper, and water), and killing weeds in a brick walk (keep them moist with brine three weeks in spring and one week in fall).

As a service to our readers, we present the following recipe from The Family Token:


One cup of sugar, one of cream, three eggs, a tea-spoon of saleratus; cut in strips, twist and fry in lard.

If you don’t have any saleratus in your cupboard, baking powder is an acceptable substitute.

State Songs

All true Tar Heels know that our state song is William Gaston’s “The Old North State,” adopted as the official song by the state legislature in 1927.

So we were surprised to see another song staking the claim. Bettie Freshwater Pool’s Literature in the Albemarle (published by Ms. Pool in Elizabeth City, 1915) includes the poem “Carolina,” labeled as “(State Song).” It begins:

I love thee Carolina!
Broad thy rivers, bright and clear;
Majestic are thy mountains;
Dense thy forests, dark and drear;
Grows the pine tree, tall and stately;
Weeps the willow, drooping low;
Bloom the eglantine and jasmine;
Nods the daisy, white as snow.

Then the chorus:

Let me live in Carolina
Till life’s toil and strife are past!
Let me sleep in Carolina
When my sun shall set at last!
Where the mocking bird is singing–
Where my heart is fondly clinging.
I would sleep when life is o’er
Sweetly on the old home shore.

The closing lines proclaim that the “Brightest star of all the Union / Is the glorious Old North State.” Perhaps this was an unofficial state anthem before Gaston’s got the nod? We think the only way to settle this is with a head-to-head matchup, just like on American Idol. Let the people decide.

Alamance Plaid

Alamance PlaidWhenever we walk through the county history section in the North Carolina Collection, one book always catches our eye. Most hardcover books used to be bound in cardboard which was then covered with cloth (many still are today, though more and more publishers go simply with the board covers). When it came time to bind Walter Whitaker’s Centennial History of Alamance County, 1849-1949, they probably didn’t have to think very hard about what kind of cloth to use.

Alamance Plaid, the cloth that made the county famous nationwide, is purported to have been the first plaid produced commercially in the Southern United States. We’re disappointed, however, that it never really caught on with bookbinders. Our libraries would be so much livelier if it had.