“On a frosty February morning in North Carolina’s Piedmont region [near Burlington], the enterprising trio who has finally broken America’s strange truffle curse walks beneath orderly rows of loblolly pine, trying very hard not to step on the precious nuggets beneath their feet….
“For the past two years, I’ve been hunting truffles around the world for a forthcoming book. I’ve followed some very muddy dogs through medieval Italian landscapes in the dead of night. I’ve dug black truffles in the arid oak plantations of the Spanish highlands. I’ve watched deals go down in Hungarian parking lots. I’ve seen stupendous truffle patches. But I’ve never seen a patch as productive as the one in these pines — especially not in America, where truffle farming has been a 20-year train wreck….”
— From “Has the American-Grown Truffle Finally Broken Through?” by Rowan Jacobsen in Smithsonian magazine (June)
A decade ago North Carolina’s fledgling truffle growers found a different way to make national headlines.
“On April 29, 1864, a delegation of six black men from North Carolina—some born free, others enslaved—came to the White House to petition Lincoln for the right to vote. As the men approached the Executive Mansion, they were directed to enter through the front door—an unexpected experience for black men from the South, who would never have been welcomed this way in their home state. One of the visitors, Rev. Isaac K. Felton, later remarked that it would have been considered an ‘insult’ for a person of color to seek to enter the front door ‘of the lowest magistrate of Craven County, and ask for the smallest right.’ Should such a thing occur, Felton said, the black ‘offender’ would have been told to go ‘around to the back door, that was the place for niggers.’”
“In words that alluded to the Sermon on the Mount, Felton likened Lincoln to Christ:
“We knock! and the door is opened unto to us. We seek, the President! and find him to the joy and comfort of our hearts. We ask, and receive his sympathies and promises to do for us all he could. He didn’t tell us to go round to the back door, but, like a true gentleman and noble-hearted chief, with as much courtesy and respect as though we had been the Japanese Embassy he invited us into the White House.”
“Lincoln spoke with the North Carolinians for some time. He shook their hands when they entered his office and again when the meeting ended. Upon returning home, the delegation reported back to their neighbors about how ‘[t]he president received us cordially and spoke with us freely and kindly.’ ”
— From “Black Lives Certainly Mattered to Abraham Lincoln” by Jonathan W. White in Smithsonian magazine (Feb. 10, 2021)
“When the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed ‘Empire’ at the nearby Varsity Theatre in 2010, the audience heard curses from the rear of the darkened cinema, said Allison Portnow Lathrop, public programs manager at the Ackland.
“The projectionist was losing a bout with the two antiquated projectors used to show the film’s 10 full reels. Later, a fire almost broke out.
“Ms. Lathrop had hired eight musical groups, booking each to play during an hour of the film. Near the end of the final reel, a local noise band, Y Fuego Mod, set off sparks during a set that mixed tools, scrap metal and amplifiers.
” ‘I really thought, “My job is over here. I’m going to be fired–if we all make it out alive,” ‘ Ms. Lathrop said. No one was hurt, and the projector kept rolling, after emergency exits were opened to air out the fumes.”
— From “Sick of Hollywood Action Movies? Warhol’s Epic Is an 8-Hour Shot of the Empire State Building” by Brenda Cronin in the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 10, 2019)
“Sponsors [of television shows in the 1950s] paid particular attention to anything they thought would boost the competition….
“On the ‘Camel News Caravan,’ in an interview with ‘Lucky’ Luciano, only the mobster’s first name, Charles, could be used, so viewers would not confuse it with an ad for Lucky Strikes. The word ‘lucky’ seemed to pose a particular problem for American Tobacco’s competitors. Scriptwriters regularly combed through thesaurus to dredge up synonyms like ‘fortunate’ or ‘providential’ whenever the forbidden ‘L word’ popped up. How bad could it get? This bad: even the word ‘American’ was proscribed on one show….”
— From “The Box: An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961” by Jeff Kisseloff (1995)
“Five years after the abolition of slavery… a Methodist minister in the remote mountain town of Waynesville, North Carolina, carried out an act of reparation apparently unprecedented in U.S. history. Asa Fitzgerald signed an extraordinary land deed in August 1870, conveying most of his remaining property to nine ‘colored persons’ he and his wife’s relations had formerly enslaved. He transferred the land explicitly as restitution for the many years of unpaid labor ‘performed by them and their ancestors while in slavery’….
“For eight years Fitzgerald and his family lived with this remarkable arrangement in apparent peace. The Fitzgerald patriarch died in 1878 with little remaining property aside from his house, a small plot of land, and his library. It did not take long for his wife and children to take legal action undoing his novel transaction….”
— From “A Personal Act of Reparation” by Kirk Savage in Lapham’s Quarterly (Dec. 15, 2019)
“[After FDR went to work as undersecretary of the Navy under Josephus Daniels], Eleanor Roosevelt brought from New York four servants, all white….
“When the Danielses had the Roosevelts to dinner … Eleanor appreciated her host asking the traditional blessing but had difficulty reconciling the piety with the harsh reprimand Daniels gave her that night at the table.
“Cloaked in his soft Piedmont voice, the secretary of the navy declared it unnatural for whites to assume a servile position in the house of a white family; only Negroes could wait on their superiors. ‘Whom else,’ he said, ‘could one kick?'”
— From “Eleanor” by David Michaelis (2020)
“In North Carolina, during slavery and into the era of sharecropping, people in the lowest caste were forbidden to sell or trade goods of any kind or be subject to 39 lashes. This blocked the main route to earning money from their own farm labors and forced them into economic dependence on the dominant caste.”
— From “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson (2020)
“There was no escaping the irony of his last great endeavor. The young [Frederick Law] Olmsted had ridden this part of North Carolina in 1854 as a decrier of aristocracy and proponent of state-aided uplift of the masses. He’d returned to the region to end his career designing the grounds of a 250-room French-style chateau, the largest private home in the nation.”
— From “Spying on the South: An Odyssey across the American Divide” by Tony Horwitz (2019)
More about Olmsted in North Carolina here. And there’s even a statue at the North Carolina Arboretum.
“At some point in the early 1820s, [the pirate Jean] Laffite pulled a disappearing act…. Did he die of a fever in Mexico? Did he die in one of his many raids along the Central American coast? Or did he, to escape his many enemies, make his way to a village called Lincolnton… to live out his days under the nom-de-guerre of Lorenzo Ferrer and be buried in the cemetery of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church?”
— From “Jean Laffite Book Sheds Light On Mysterious Pirate” by Thomas Lark in the Lincoln Herald (Feb. 12)
“Peter Stuart [sometimes Stewart] Ney, a teacher from Rowan County, is said to have made a deathbed confession that he was, in fact, Napoleon Bonaparte’s most trusted commander, Marshal Michel Ney. Marshal Ney was rumored to have escaped execution in 1815 and fled to America….
“However, researcher William Henry Hoyt amassed conclusive evidence that the true Marshal Ney did not escape the firing squad. He also found an 1820 application for citizenship filed by Peter Stuart Ney in South Carolina and a record of his baptism in Scotland….”
— From “Peter Stuart Ney Confesses to be Napoleon’s Closest Aide” (North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources blog)
“History never repeats itself. But it rhymes.”
— Mark Twain (perhaps)
“What few people know is that the South wasn’t always so segregated. During a brief window between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century, black and white people lived next to each other in Southern cities, creating what [Charlotte] historian Tom Hanchett describes as a ‘salt-and-pepper’ pattern.
“They were not integrated in a meaningful sense: Divisions existed, but ‘in a lot of Southern cities, segregation hadn’t been fully imposed — there were neighborhoods where blacks and whites were living nearby,’ said Eric Foner, a Columbia historian and expert on Reconstruction. Walk around in the Atlanta or the Charlotte of the late 1800s, and you might see black people in restaurants, hotels, the theater, Foner said. Two decades later, such things were not allowed.”
— From ” ‘Segregation Had to Be Invented’ “ by Alana Semuels in The Atlantic (Feb. 17)