The North Carolina Emergency Bank Holiday of 1933

Newspaper headline "All Banks Closed in State and Nation"

The Great Depression hit North Carolina hard, effectively lasting from the stock market crash of 1929 to the beginning of World War II in 1941. During the early 1930s, about ¼  of all North Carolinians were on relief programs. Between 1929 and 1933, gross farm income dropped almost 50 percent, and cotton and textile wages declined 25 percent.

The state’s banking industry was devastated. Between June 1927 and June 1932,  over 200 banks in North Carolina failed, having lost over $264 million. “[S]till, about the safest place to keep one’s money is in a bank,” the Independent of Elizabeth City reasoned. As 1933 began, the Great Depression showed no signs of stopping.

Runs on banks increased in early 1933, as people in cities like Asheville and Charlotte withdrew their money and left banks with little to no reserves. On February 14, 1933, Michigan became the first state to declare a bank holiday, closing all banks for a week to prevent sudden withdrawals and bank failures. This led panicked customers across the country to pull money from their banks, which, in turn, caused other states to declare bank holidays.

North Carolina was one of the last states to take action. On March 3, legislators passed a law providing the state Commissioner of Banks with authority to declare a bank holiday for state-chartered banks (as opposed to national banks, those that are under the authority of the Comptroller of the Currency). As the Roanoke Rapids Herald reported, lawmakers crafted the legislation despite few banks requesting a bank holiday. The Commissioner was also given authority to limit withdrawals from individual banks.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, shortly after inaugurationUsing Chronicling America, the Library of Congress’ free, online database of scanned American newspapers, it’s possible to research and learn more about the bank holidays of 1933.

By March 4, 1933, the day that Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, banks nationally held about $4 billion in liquid funds and reserves. Accountholders were seeking to withdraw $43 billion, according to The Independent of Elizabeth City.

On his 3rd day in office, March 6, FDR declared an immediate, national bank holiday, beginning that day and lasting until March 9, closing every nationally chartered bank across the country. For North Carolina, the order was modified to “resume certain functions as may be necessary to meet community needs”—i.e., for food, salary and wage payments, and other essentials. One state bank announced it would be open for one hour a day to allow customers to access their safe deposit boxes or exchange dollars for smaller denominations or coins.

Notice from the State Trust Co. announcing it will be only open for one hour a day to make change and allow use of safety deposit boxes

North Carolinians handled the sudden bank holiday with cautious optimism. A Greensboro judge adjourned superior court because “this is no time to be holding court…” Hendersonville residents were “in good spirit,” accepted the banking holiday calmly, and believed theirs would “be one of the first cities in the state” to return to normal. The Roanoke Rapids Herald reported “more optimism and confidence than in some time” among local businesspeople. 

On March 9, Roosevelt extended the national bank holiday indefinitely, while also creating a path for some national banks to reopen, provided they were considered solvent by the comptroller of the currency. On the same day, North Carolina governor J. C. B. Ehringhaus extended the state bank holiday for another week. 

Newspaper headline "Bank Holiday is Modified; Local Folks Confident"Despite the bank holiday extension, North Carolinians were confident their financial institutions would be able to reopen as soon as Thursday the 16th, the end of the bank holidayBoth the Treasury Department and the state banking commissioner noted that if state or national banks were solvent, they could resume operations despite the nationally mandated bank holiday. Hendersonville residents had a “very optimistic attitude…none of the hysteria or uneasiness, prevalent before the banking holiday was declared, will be displayed.”

Newspaper caption "A New Feeling of Safety and Confidence Turns Scowls to Smiles in All the Albemarle"Public confidence in financial institutions seemed to be slowly returning. Two banks in Halifax County reopened on the 16th as expected. The State Trust company received a surprising amount of deposits on that day, according to “particularly well pleased” bank officials.

Other banks took longer to reopen. The Bank of Manteo reopened more than a week later. The First & Citizens National Bank of Elizabeth City finally reopened on April 1, after its officers discussed the possibility of conservatorship

Newspaper headline "U.S. Banking Restrictions Are Relaxed"

The First National Bank of Salisbury reopened in early June, nearly three months after the bank holiday. That month, FDR signed the 1933 Banking Act, which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, insuring bank deposits in the case of bank failures. By July of the following year, all but two North Carolina banks had joined the FDIC.

For many residents throughout the state, despite the bank holiday and new financial regulations, the Great Depression continued. In August 1933, the Polk County Bank & Trust Company closed its doors and went into “voluntary liquidation”—one of the first banks to close since the bank holiday. The town of Scotland Neck was completely “without banking facilities” well into September 1933. 

The Independent of Elizabeth City named 1933 “one of the darkest and most trying” years in North Carolina history, but because of North Carolinians’ strong resolve and decisive action across all levels of government, people entered 1934 filled with optimism about the years to come.

Textile Strikes in North Carolina

Newspaper headline "Latest Strike News"

In the 1920s, North Carolina was ranked as the largest textile producer in the country, employing thousands, especially in the Piedmont. But as the Great Depression ushered in the 1930s, nearly one-quarter of all North Carolinians were out of work.

Textile workers who held onto their jobs faced long hours, low wages, and dangerous working conditions.  Consequently, they joined unions and went on strike for livable wages and safe working conditions. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, mill employees across the state struck until their demands were met. For example, in 1921, at Cannon Mill locations in Charlotte, Concord, and Kannapolis, an estimated 9,00011,000 people went on an 8-week strike. 

Newspaper headline "Battle Front Scenes in Great Textile Strike", a photo of President Roosevelt's Textile Mediation Board, and a photo of National Guardsmen using tear gas on strikers

Using Chronicling America, we can research these strikes and find out more about the history of organized labor in North Carolina.

Readers can see the same reasons  behind the strikes. Many mention wage reductions, especially impactful during the years of the Great Depression. Sometimes these wage cuts were documented to be as high as 25%

Over a dozen strikes occurred in the state between 1931 and 1933, many related to how much employees were being paid. In December 1931, a small strike at the Klumac Cotton mill in Salisbury was called. In July 1932, 6,000 struck in High Point for three weeks, and in August, roughly 500 at mills in Rowan County walked out, all in response to wage reductions.

Newspaper headline "Hosiery Mill Strike Ended"

One of the other common reasons for strikes was because of “stretch-out.” Officially called “scientific management,” it was a time management system that was designed to save companies money by making workers more efficient, leading them to do more in less time.

However, mill workers saw it as a way to cut jobs and have fewer people do more work without an accompanying rise in pay. Mill workers called it “stretch-out” as they felt they were stretched to their limits. In August 1932, over 1,000 workers in Rockingham and Spindale walked out, demanding an end to “stretch-out,” and restoration of their wages to pre-cut pay levels.

Newspaper headline "Strike Now Seen As Endurance Contest"

Textile workers struck for other reasons as well. Hosiery mill workers in High Point demanded the same pay for a 40 hour week that they previously received for a 55 hour week. One Spindale strike petitioned for the removal of a specific superintendent. Mill strikes persisted well into the 1930s, with hundreds or thousands of workers often stopping work for weeks on end.

Most strikes were nonviolent, although there were exceptions. The most infamous strike occurred in Gastonia in June 1929 where violence broke out and strike organizers were killed. In February 1932, a strike of 500 cotton mill workers in Bladenboro ended after three officers were shot, although “[n]o one was wounded seriously.One fearful 1937 editorial wrote that striking inevitably meant violence and death – “Bloodshed follows a Southern textile strike almost as inevitably as night follows day.”

Newspaper headline "County Board Appeals To Governor In Strike"

State and national governments often intervened in settling or ending strikes. In 1921, National Guard troops were ordered to Concord to “take complete charge of the textile strike situation,” which only broke after a visit by Governor Cameron Morrison. In 1929, it cost the state over $27,000 and $12,000 to again put National Guardsmen on duty during textile strikes in Marion and Gastonia, respectively.

Newspaper headline "Girl Pickets Taunt Troops" and a photo of women and National Guardsmen looking at each other

Morrison was not the only governor to involve himself – in 1932, Governor O. Max Gardner persuaded 5,000 strikers in High Point to submit to arbitration. The following year, the State Department of Labor stepped in to settle strikes in Concord and in Forest City.

A strike’s success was not always guaranteed – neither was positive reception. In 1934, mill workers in Mecklenburg County were “hot” for a strike, but those in Rutherford County, Gaston County, Marion, and High Point all responded negatively. One editorial in The Independent (Elizabeth City) asked why people across the state were striking, and if the cause was “hunger, communism or a general state of dissatisfaction…” 

Newspaper headline "Local Cotton Mill Workers Not Expected to Take Part in Nation Wide Textile Strike"

In 1933, President Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act, which set minimum wages for textile workers in the South – about $12 a week. In September 1934, a massive national strike was held, but many textile workers felt that because of a lack of union support, membership was not important, and union numbers in North Carolina never recovered.

How Telephones Changed North Carolina

Advertisement "Come and see the telephone"

The oft-told story is that the telephone officially came to North Carolina on March 10, 1879. That is typically seen as the day when Major Bowling W. Starke, the manager of the Western Union Telegraph Co. office in Raleigh, strung a wire that carried his voice from his office to his home four city blocks away.

Chronicling America, the archive of historic newspapers created by the Library of Congress, suggests otherwise. You might have heard 1879 was the year of the telephone, but our research says something different.

It was actually a year earlier, on April 14, 1878, when Starke made the first telephone call from Raleigh to Wilmington. Maj. Bowling W. Starke connected to Wilmington, and Governor Vance conversed with former Confederate Attorney General George Davis. Several men formed a choir to sing several hymns, “which were re-duplicated by singers in Wilmington.” The “melodies were perfectly audible,” and the first long-distance telephone call in North Carolina was a success.

People immediately saw the potential for the telephone as a tool to connect people in new and exciting ways.

Quote from the Western Sentinel - the telephone is "the greatest achievement of modern science"

The Western Sentinel (Winston-Salem) declared the telephone to be “the greatest achievement of modern science” and later said that it had “scarcely ceased to be a cause for amusement…” The Farmer and Mechanic (Raleigh) later facetiously predicted that telephones would eliminate the need for church services and houses of worship

A frantic rush followed to connect cities and citizens via telephone. The “telephone craze” was on. A month after Vance’s telephone call, the towns of Winston and Salem were “completely cobwebbed with telephones”.

The Farmer and Mechanic imagined that Raleigh “must look like a big cob-web” with all the telephone wires stretched across the city. The excitement was so palpable that one newspaper advertisement simply advertised that people could come look at the telephone at a local drug store.

In 1879, Starke threaded the city of Raleigh with additional telephone wires, and communication was soon established between Raleigh and Durham. A few days later, several houses in Chapel Hill, including the home of Julian S. Carr, had telephones.

By the end of 1879, The Raleigh News reported 96 telephone wires in Raleigh, including the Supreme Court room, with more to come. In May 1880, telephone wires between Charlotte and Greenville, SC were established. It was prophesied that soon the telephone would “be so common that everyone can sit on his doorstep and talk with everybody else.”

Some articles highlighted citizens’ efforts to establish a telephone exchange in town. Telephone exchanges, offices that connected callers via switchboards, were big news for any town. A telephone exchange meant more people in town had phones and that they could talk to people further outside of their community. New telephone exchanges were always newsworthy.

In preparation for their telephone exchange, the Asheville Citizen included instructions on how to call someone, and how you should answer the phone (“What will you have?”). Once it was established, the Asheville telephone exchange answered more than 15,000 calls in June 1890 alone – “the biggest month’s work” up to that point. 

Throughout the state, people were excited at the possibilities the telephone presented. Part of that excitement involved just making civic life more convenient. Doctors could be quickly called in case of emergency, as could fire departments.

Cotton factories in Catawba, Lincoln, and Gaston counties built a telephone system to process orders faster. The Farmer and Mechanic editorialized that once Raleigh residents could call cities like Richmond or Augusta, “the saving in postage, in time, and in mistakes, will be wonderful.” The telephone represented a major change for North Carolinians.

Behind the Scenes of the First Educational Film Made in North Carolina

Image provided courtesy of ECU Libraries

Over the years, many classic films have been produced and shot in North Carolina. But the story of the first educational film ever made here begins in 1921. Using the state newspapers available on the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website, we can track its history.

Newspaper article announcing the filming of the history of Roanoke Island

In May 1921, the State Board of Education announced they would outline the history of Roanoke Island, from the British colonists’ ships landing in the 16th century to the 1920s. Captain Albert O. Clement, a photographer from Goldsboro, was initially slated to direct a “picturization” and W.C. Crosby, the director of the Division of School Extension in the state Department of Education, would assist.

Newspaper article announcing re-creations of colonial settings on Roanoke Island

A movie being filmed in North Carolina was a big deal, and even bigger for the people living on location in Dare County. Filming was scheduled for that September, and it would not be a historical recreation “in pageant form, but with an eye to reality.”

The movie was to be directed by Elizabeth Grimball, a veteran theatre play producer, and Dr. Frederick H. Koch, professor of dramatic literature and playwriting at UNC-Chapel Hill. Mabel Evans Jones, the Dare County school superintendent, was to help with production and distribution.

$3,000 in state money was appropriated for the project. One editorial in the Elizabeth City Independent argued that $3,000 wouldn’t be enough to do the project justice, and that the producers would have to rely on “donated properties, donated costumes, and such amateur theatrical talent…” Normally, a project of this size at the time would have required more than $50,000.

Newspaper editorial discussing the cost of the Roanoke film project

Indeed, as pre-production began, nearby counties volunteered their manpower to make the movie a reality. Money and other supplemental resources were brought in by the State Fishing Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard. The people of Roanoke Island built ships and sets. A number of citizens from across the state, including several newspapermen from Greensboro and Raleigh, volunteered to act in the movie.

File photo of several men dressed in colonial outfit as part of the movie production

Production for “The Lost Colony” began on September 20th, and there was an excitement in the air surrounding the filming. 150 cast members came from nearby towns – 100 were from the town of Manteo alone.

Producers from the Atlas Educational Film Co. in Chicago were present on set, as well as historian Frederick A. Olds.

News coverage of the filming was very favorable, with reporters remarking on the elaborate scenes, the depth of the story, and the striking colors of the costumes (the film was, of course, in black-and-white).

Newspaper article about the film production on Roanoke IslandFilming was finished by the 27th. Although there was some grumbling that the film wouldn’t be entirely historically accurate, reporters were gleeful when Crosby promised the finished product would be viewable by around November of that year. Indeed, it premiered on November 7, 1921 in the Supreme Courtroom in Raleigh.

Evidently, Crosby had also promised the people of Manteo that they would be the first people to see it. When Raleigh papers reported that the film would be shown all over the state before Manteo, the town was incensed. They were also hurt that the leading actors were from outside the community and didn’t reflect the time and energy put in by the people of Manteo.

Newspaper article about Manteo residents' indignation to the movie not being shown there first

Newspaper article announcing "The Lost Colony Film" would be shown in Elizabeth City

It was quickly rectified – the first public showing would be in Manteo after all, on the night of November 19. The film would be shown in Elizabeth City after that. One writer reckoned that “everybody in Elizabeth City will try to see the great historical film…” 

And they did. On November 22 alone, an estimated 3,200 people paid admission to see the first movie ever filmed there. This was the “greatest day’s business” ever recorded by the Alkrama Theatre in Elizabeth City. The 1920 census recorded 8,925 living in Elizabeth City at the time, which would mean nearly 36% of all residents turned out to see the movie.

Hundreds entered the theater without paying, crowding out the doors. Hundreds more were turned away, and the lobby and street outside were so full of people that the police threatened to close the venue. This made theater manager John Burgess “so hot in the collar” that he and the police chief nearly came to blows.

Newspaper article about the crowds of thousands to see "The Lost Colony Film"

Reviews were mixed. The Independent said it was “lacking in many dramatic details, but as far as it went it was good.” Another editorial remarked on the irony of watching English colonists exact violence against the native Americans living here, arguing that the contemporary colonizing of the Philippines and Haiti prove that “we haven’t progressed much in the more than three centuries since.”

Directed by Elizabeth Grimball and written by Mabel Evans Jones, “The Lost Colony Film” was to be the first in a series entitled “North Carolina Pictorial History,” but none ever followed. The film is available as part of the North Carolina Collection in Wilson Library, and it is available to view on a kiosk in the North Carolina Collection Gallery.

Looking Back on Carrie A. Nation’s Fight For Prohibition in North Carolina

The nationwide prohibition of alcohol began 100 years ago. But the alcohol temperance movement had been fermenting in North Carolina for quite some time before that.

There were efforts to limit the use of alcohol in North Carolina as far back as the early 1700s, but the temperance movement didn’t begin in earnest until the 1800s. Tar Heels organized a temperance convention in 1837.

Newspaper notice about the 1837 North Carolina Temperance Convention

Such groups as the Order of the Sons of Temperance in North Carolina had their own newspapers, namely the Spirit of the Age. Individual temperance activists also gained national notoriety.

Portrait of Carrie Nation, temperance activist

Carrie A. Nation (also spelled “Carry”) grew frustrated with the lack of prohibition enforcement in her native Kansas and became famous for taking matters into her own hands. She visited local saloons and used hatchets and rocks to break windows and alcohol bottles. Despite several stints in jail, she continued her attacks on bars, saloons, and taverns.

Newspaper article highlighting Carrie Nation's visit to Asheville in 1902Nation reportedly covered her legal fees through speaking tours and selling merchandise, including miniature hatchets. Indeed, this is what happened when she visited Asheville in late 1902.

Although she was there to gather funds for a “home for drunkards’ wives in Kansas City,” she sold hatchets to her audience while she railed against the government “as an agent of the liquor traffic.” Because of these stunts, she was a fixture of state and national newspapers. As a member in good standing of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she was popular among women, as well. On other occasions, she sold her books instead of hatchets.

Newspaper article about Carrie Nation visiting Charlotte

During the summer of 1907, Nation toured North Carolina, warning crowds of the dangers of alcohol, cigarettes, and more. She drew attention to societal ills and didn’t pull punches. Newspaper article about Carrie Nation's chastisement of SalisburyWhen she visited Salisbury on June 29, she decried drinkers and smokers alike, calling Salisbury “a hell hole” with “plenty of poverty, degradation and suffering…”

She also didn’t shy away from connecting alcohol consumption and moral decay to national politics. At one point, she said that the United States was in a “state of anarchy,” President Theodore Roosevelt was a “beer guzzling Dutchman,” and argued that there was no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. However, she did speak kindly of North Carolina Governor Robert Glenn because of his positive attitude towards temperance. 

Newspaper article about Carrie Nation's popularity in SalisburyDespite her harsh words, she drew crowds everywhere she went – from Charlotte to Hickory to Durham to Oxford. Indeed, she was always fodder for newspaper writers, one of whom said she “does not seem to be the noisy, belligerent individual she has been pictured…”Newspaper article describing Carrie Nation as having "had no wild spell while here"

Another said she was a “fanatic” yet “has an attractive face…”

Nation traveled to over half a dozen North Carolina cities during July and August 1907, speaking to delighted crowds of up to 4,000 people.

Her words likely had some effect on the state’s residents, because less than a year later, North Carolina voted to pass a state prohibition bill, the first in the country.

Newspaper headline "Prohibition Wins North Carolina Votes Dry by a Very Large Majority"

Prohibition won by over 44,000 votes, and went into effect on January 1, 1909. As for Carrie A. Nation, she moved to Arkansas and founded a home that she called “Hatchet Hall” before passing away in June 1911. 

Excerpt from newspaper article about Pearl McCallNation left a legacy. In the 1930s, to protest the repeal of prohibition, women in Kansas pledged to keep the state alcohol-free using hatchets if necessary. Pearl McCall, a former assistant United States district attorney, urged women to take up hatchets themselves and march on Washington, destroying gambling halls in the process. She said, “what this town needs is a Carry Nation.”