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.”

Kuralt’s Road Ends in His Beloved Chapel Hill

. . . was the first-page headline of The Herald-Sun, Durham’s newspaper, on July 9, 1997.  At noon the previous day—twenty years ago today—family and friends buried and memorialized Charles Kuralt on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives is home to The Herald-Sun photographic negatives, so today we honor that anniversary by featuring the two photographs, cropped as they were then, that accompanied the newspaper’s story.

The Herald-Sun caption for this photograph by Joe Weiss: "Wallace Kuralt, (center) brother of Charles Kuralt, talks with CBS journalist Harry Smith after the graveside service for Charles Kuralt Tuesday at the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery on the campus of the University of North Carolina."
The Herald-Sun caption for this photograph by Joe Weiss: “Wallace Kuralt, (center) brother of Charles Kuralt, talks with CBS journalist Harry Smith after the graveside service for Charles Kuralt Tuesday at the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery on the campus of the University of North Carolina.”

Kuralt’s connections to Carolina were long and deep.  Born in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1934, his family moved to Charlotte in 1945.  He attended UNC between 1951 and 1955, and he worked on the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, as a reporter and columnist.  In April 1954 he won the student election for the position of editor.  After his time at UNC he wrote for two years for The Charlotte Observer before joining the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1957 as a news writer for radio.  He became a CBS News correspondent two years later at the age of 25. Kuralt spent nearly his entire career at CBS, retiring May 1, 1994 at the age of 59.  He was best known for “On the Road,” the long-running series of Americana short stories that he started in 1967 as segments aired during The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.  Others may recall him as the fifteen-year anchor of CBS Sunday Morning, which first aired in 1979.  Throughout his celebrated career and wanderings across the country, Kuralt maintained lasting love for his home state.

Charles Kuralt died on July 4, 1997.  To mark that anniversary, sister blog A View to Hugh published an account of his passing and memorial service that features photographs by Kuralt’s friend Hugh Morton and documents from the Charles Kuralt Collection and the William C. Friday Papers in the Southern Historical Collection.  Morton and Friday were two of the speakers at the memorial service attended by 1,600 people in UNC’s Memorial Hall.  UNC’s social media Spotlight webpage republished a short excerpt of that blog post along with the University News Services’ July 8, 1997 story, “Life and legacy of Charles Kuralt honored during service at UNC-CH’s Memorial Hall.”

As captioned in The Herald-Sun: "CBS Anchor Dan Rather bows his head during the memorial ceremony for his fellow newsman Charles Kuralt." Photograph by Bill Willcox.
As captioned in The Herald-Sun: “CBS Anchor Dan Rather bows his head during the memorial ceremony for his fellow newsman Charles Kuralt.” Photograph by Bill Willcox.

“As Close to Magic as I’ve Ever Been”: Thomas Wolfe at Chapel Hill

Image of Thomas Wolfe smoking a pipe. The photo reportedly shows him during his senior year at UNC.
Thomas Wolfe during his senior year.
One hundred years ago today the tall, rather awkward, not quite yet sixteen-year-old Thomas Clayton Wolfe boarded an early morning train in Asheville bound for Durham. There he was met by his brother-in-law who drove him the twelve miles over to Chapel Hill to enroll at the University of North Carolina. Wolfe had longed to attend the University of Virginia. But his father had insisted he go to Chapel Hill, foreseeing a possible legal career and future in politics for his youngest child. Once at Chapel Hill, however, Tom quickly dove into both coursework and campus activities with a passion and focus that quickly made him among the most prominent and popular students on campus.

Upon arrival in Chapel Hill, Tom signed up for room and board at the three-story rooming house of Mrs. Mattie Eva Hardee, a widow originally from Asheville–$15 a month for board and $7.50 for a student’s half of a room. Writing to his brother-in-law a few days later, he declared the food “splendid” but the room rent “exorbitant.” His professors were “all fine fellows” for whom he hoped to “do well in all my studies and my guess is that I’ll have to ‘bone’ up on math.”

During the next four years, Wolfe would do well in his studies—as a junior winning the prize in philosophy for best student thesis and earning multiple A’s that same year from favorite professors Edwin Greenlaw in English, Frederick Koch in dramatic literature, and Horace Williams in philosophy. His achievements in student publications and as a leader of campus organizations were equally outstanding—assistant editor, then managing editor, and finally editor-in-chief of the Tar Heel student newspaper; assistant editor, then assistant editor-in-chief of the University Magazine; associate editor of the Yackety Yack yearbook; member of student council; author of and sometimes actor in plays performed by the campus Carolina Playmakers campus theater company; and class poet.

After graduating from UNC in 1920, Wolfe studied playwriting at Harvard, then moved to New York where he initially did some teaching at New York University. But soon he turned his legendary intellectual energy and passion to fiction writing. In 1929 his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, was published, winning wide praise among literary critics and creating a sensation because of the thinly-veiled autobiographical nature of the book. The life and experiences of the book’s protagonist, Eugene Gant, are often unmistakably similar to those of Thomas Wolfe. In Look Homeward, Angel, however, young Gant attends the state university at Pulpit Hill, not Chapel Hill. But the sense of adventure, excitement, and intellectual stimulation he experienced there as described in Look Homeward, Angel, echo loudly the fond memories of Thomas Wolfe for a place and time he would later describe as being “as close to magic as I’ve ever been.”

May 1906: Stuart Cramer and Air Conditioning

This Month in North Carolina History

cramer_auto_regThe small hand of the clock pointed to 10 as Stuart Cramer stood before the 600 or so people assembled for the American Cotton Manufacturers Association’s annual conference in Asheville’s Kenilworth Inn on May 17, 1906. It was the second-day of the association’s 10th annual meeting and Cramer, already established as a leading designer of cotton mills in the South, was on the agenda as the day’s first speaker. He was scheduled to discuss the Automatic Regulator, one of his most recent inventions and a device designed to allow for automatic control of humidity and temperature within cotton mills.

“At first sight,” Cramer began, “the title chosen for this paper seems to be rather comprehensive when it is considered that I intend to limit my remarks largely to the description and application of my new Automatic Regulator.” The five words he chose for the title of his talk were unremarkable by themselves. But two of them in combination would brand one of the biggest technological innovations of the 20th century–an advance that would allow factories and office buildings to keep their windows closed year-round and would contribute to the decline of front porch life in the South. Cramer spoke for thirty minutes on “Recent Development in Air Conditioning.”

Cramer could not lay claim to being the first to develop methods for simultaneously cooling, dehumidifying, circulating and cleansing the air. Credit for that development is generally given to Willis Haviland Carrier, a Cornell-trained engineer. The system he installed at a Brooklyn, N.Y., printing company in 1902 controlled humidity and temperature by pumping air at a regulated speed over coils refrigerated at a set temperature.

Carrier’s invention would find a receptive audience in the South, where cotton mill owners struggled to control the temperature and humidity in their factories. And it was those issues that Cramer sought to address during his speech to those assembled at the Asheville meeting.

“In building and equipping of mills, you are accustomed to consider heating and humidifying separately, without regard to that interdependence which is so strikingly brought to notice upon even the crudest effort at hand regulation,” he said. “And the moment you attempt the refinement of automatic regulation, you are confronted with another problem, and that is ventilation. Parenthetically, I would also mention air cleansing, which, however, is a problem largely solved by an efficient humidifying system. And so, I have used the term ‘Air Conditioning’ to include humidifying and air cleansing, and heating and ventilation.’ ”

cramer_portrait_croppedCramer was 38-years-old when he delivered those lines. He was born in Thomasville and educated at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he studied naval engineering. Upon graduation in 1888, he resigned his commission and headed to New York City, where he spent a post-graduate year studying at Columbia University’s School of Mines. Cramer returned to North Carolina in 1889 to assume the position of chief assayer at a United States Assay office in Charlotte, more commonly known as the Charlotte Mint. Four years later, in 1893, Cramer left the Assay office to become chief engineer for D.A. Tompkins Company, a Charlotte textile equipment manufacturer.

Cramer was quick to see opportunity in textile manufacturing, which experienced rapid growth in the Carolina piedmont between 1880 and 1915. In 1895 he left D.A. Tompkins and set out on his own, opening a Charlotte office that specialized in the design and construction of mills. Cramer also served as the local agent for several manufacturers of textile mill equipment. He is credited with planning or equipping nearly one-third of all cotton mills in the South between 1895 and 1915.

Among Cramer’s notable designs is the Highland Park Number 3 mill in north Charlotte, which opened in 1903. The facility was a full-service spinning and weaving mill and considered state-of-the art. It served as a prototype for textile mill design and construction throughout the South. And, at 250,000 square feet, the mill was also the largest in Mecklenburg County.

In addition to designing and building mills, Cramer also developed techniques to increase mill efficiency. He is credited with 60 patents, many of which were for devices to achieve such a goal. Cramer pushed for mill owners to abandon the use of a central power plant, which powered all machinery through a maze of connected belts and shafts. Instead, he suggested, each machine should include its own motor and operate as an independent electric device. His push for the use of electric power and reliance on a network of power grids made him a natural ally with industrialist James B. Duke. Consequently when Duke Power Company was formed, Cramer became a director.

Cramer’s 1906 speech to the American Cotton Manufacturers Association was a much-abbreviated discussion of the topics he addressed in the fourth volume of his Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers. The multi-volume handbook was first published in 1904 as an advertising vehicle for Cramer’s mill design firm. But, chocked with information about mill equipment, mill design, power generation and, of course, air conditioning, Cramer’s work quickly became a general reference source for textile industrialists. It was republished several times between 1904 and 1909.

cramer_a_c_adCramer did not limit himself to merely offering advice on mill design and operations. Over time he moved into mill ownership. He was an active investor in textile ventures and sometimes accepted shares in mills as partial payment for his design work and equipment. In 1910 he became president of one of the company’s in which he had invested, Mays Mills in Gaston County. Five years later, in 1915, he acquired controlling interest in May Mills. About the same time, Cramer renamed the mill town from Mayville to Cramerton, and in 1922 he changed the company’s name to Cramerton Mills. Cramer would remain involved with the company until his death in 1940. During that time Cramerton Mills underwent rapid and continuous growth, increasing its output more than tenfold.

Air conditioning would not experience such a rapid growth. Many Southern mill owners did not install air-conditioning systems until the 1930s or 1940s. And, of those that did, most only partially air conditioned their mills. Air conditioning was more quickly adopted by Southern movie theaters, which, prior to installing the new technology, were forced to close during the summer. As for cooling Southern homes, air conditioning was not commonly found in houses until the 1950s or 1960s.

Despite his coinage of a new term, Cramer’s 1906 speech drew few headlines. Instead, reporters writing about the conference focused their coverage on textile manufacturers’ agreement to not poach workers from each other and on a speech by a vice president of Southern Power, the pre-cursor to Duke Power, who spoke on “The Power Behind the South.” Indeed, it would take electricity—and plenty of it—to power the Southern mills, including their air conditioning systems.

Arsenault, Raymond. “The End of the Long Hot Summer: The Air Conditioner and Southern Culture.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Nov., 1984): 597-628.

Cramer, Stuart W. “Recent Development in Air Conditioning,” in Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Convention of the American Cotton Manufacturers Association, Held at Asheville, N.C. May 16-17, 1906. (Charlotte, N.C.: 1906): 182-211. Available at http://hdl.handle.net/2027/nyp.33433066400650

Cramer, Stuart. Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers. (Charlotte, N.C.: Queen City Print and Paper Co., 1909).

McGrath, Mark. “Stuart W. Cramer,” in The North Carolina Century : Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000, eds. Howard E. Covington, Jr. and Marion A. Ellis (Charlotte, N.C.: Levine Museum of the New South, 2002): 39-42.

McNeill, John Charles.”Stuart Warren Cramer,” in Biographical History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present, eds. Samuel A. Ashe and Stephen B. Weeks (Greensboro: Charles L. Van Noppen, 1908):81-87.

Image Source:
Air Regulator in Cramer, Stuart. Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers. (Charlotte, N.C.: Queen City Print and Paper Co., 1909).

Portrait of Stuart Cramer in Ashe, Samuel A. and Stephen B. Weeks, eds. Biographical History of North Carolina from Colonial Times to the Present. (Greensboro: Charles L. Van Noppen, 1908):81-87.

Cramer System of Air Conditioning advertisement in Cramer, Stuart. Useful Information for Cotton Manufacturers. (Charlotte, N.C.: Queen City Print and Paper Co., 1909).

February 1971: The Wilmington Ten

This Month in North Carolina History

Free the Wilmington 10 button
In early February, 1971, downtown Wilmington, N.C. was a war zone. Shots rang through the streets, traffic was blocked, and citizens were barricaded in a church. Although it took only a couple of days to restore peace and order, the actions of those few days and nights would bring worldwide attention to North Carolina, and would resonate for decades to come.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, African Americans in North Carolina were frustrated by the slow pace of school desegregation and other reforms promised by federal legislation and court decisions. Many young people, rejecting the commitment of the Civil Rights pioneers of the 1950s to non-violent tactics, looked for new ways to make themselves heard. There were prominent cases of arson against white-owned businesses in Charlotte and in Oxford, N.C., and many North Carolina cities erupted in violence after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.

The largest demonstration following the assassination of King took place in the historic port city of Wilmington. Race relations there had worsened following the desegregation of the city’s high schools at the beginning of the 1969/70 school year. There were frequent clashes between white and African American students resulting in a number of arrests and expulsions. The hostilities reached a boiling point in late January 1971 when Wilmington’s African American students announced a boycott of the city’s schools. Ben Chavis, an experienced activist from Oxford, N.C., was called to Wilmington to organize the boycott.

Shortly after Chavis’s arrival, two downtown businesses were burned, and there was evidence of other arson attempts. African American activists were blamed for the incidents. Members of the Ku Klux Klan and a group called The Rights of White People began to patrol downtown Wilmington armed and openly hostile to the boycotting students and their leaders. On the night of February 6, 1971, several fires were set, and a small downtown grocery store was firebombed. When firemen reported to the scene, they were shot at by snipers on the roof of the Gregory Congregational Church, in which Chavis and a number of students were barricaded. Two people were killed and several were injured during the battle that raged that night and into the next day. Finally, on February 8, National Guardsmen forced their way into the church only to find it empty.

Based on the testimony of two African American men who claimed to have been in the church the night of February 6, ten people – nine African American men and one white woman – were arrested, tried, and convicted on charges of arson and conspiracy to fire upon firemen and police officers. The “Wilmington Ten” were sentenced to a combined 282 years in prison.

In the years following the violence in Wilmington, the case became known around the world. The Wilmington Ten were perceived to be political prisoners by individuals and groups who believed that they were prosecuted not for the actions of February 6, 1971 – and about which there were still conflicting reports – but for their beliefs. Amnesty International took up the case of the Wilmington Ten in 1976, causing an embarrassment for both the North Carolina and federal governments. As the administration of President Jimmy Carter accused the Soviet Union of human rights abuses, it was especially sensitive to charges of mistreatment of American citizens.

The case did not go away. In early 1977, the CBS news program 60 Minutes ran a feature on the Wilmington Ten, suggesting that the evidence against them had been fabricated. After higher courts refused to dismiss the charges, Governor Jim Hunt was under great pressure to pardon the prisoners. In January 1978, in an address broadcast throughout the state, Hunt refused to release the Wilmington Ten, but did reduce their sentences. In 1980 the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the convictions, citing prosecutorial misconduct and denials of due process.

Although the Wilmington Ten were freed from prison, the charges against them remained for another three decades. On December 31, 2012 North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue issued a full pardon for each member of the the group. The action meant that the state no longer believed that any of the 10 committed a crime.

In explaining her pardon, Perdue pointed to the recent discovery of notes suggesting the prosecutor’s efforts to select a jury based on race. She wrote, “These notes show with disturbing clarity the dominant role that racism played in jury selection. The notes reveal that certain white jurors believed to be Ku Klux Klan members were described by the prosecutor as ‘good’ and that at least one African American juror was noted to be an ‘Uncle Tom type.'”

At the time of the pardon, four members of the Wilmington 10 had already died and several were in ill health.

Wayne King, “The Case Against the Wilmington Ten.” New York Times Magazine, 3 December 1978.

Wayne Grimsley, James B. Hunt: A North Carolina Progressive. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2003.

Larry Reni Thomas, The True Story Behind the Wilmington Ten. Hampton, Va.: U.B. & U.S. Communications Systems, 1993.

Timothy Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name. New York: Crown, 2004.

Image Source
“Free the Wilmington 10 Now!” button, ca. 1971-1981; 4.4 cm.
North Carolina Collection Gallery

June 1959: Textile Strike and Trials in Henderson

This Month in North Carolina History

Cover of “Southern Newsletter” issue for August-September 1959
Cover of “Southern Newsletter” issue for August-September 1959

Boyd Payton’s mind raced with questions as he steered his car back to his Charlotte home after a Sunday visit with a friend on June 14, 1959. An announcer on the radio station to which he was tuned had just identified him as one of eight people charged with conspiring to blow up an electrical sub-station and textile manufacturing facilities in Henderson. Although Payton, the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) regional director for the Carolinas, had spent plenty of time in Vance County in the previous months negotiating on behalf of workers at the Harriet and Henderson Mills, several of the individuals listed as his co-conspirators were unknown to him. But, in the ensuing weeks, he would become well-acquainted with them and the tactics state and local officials were willing to use to bring to an end the strike-related violence crippling Henderson.

Payton’s arrest followed more than eight months of tensions in Henderson. Members of TWUA Locals 578 and 584 went out on strike in November 1958 after the owner of the Harriet and Henderson Mills, John D. Cooper, Jr., refused to accept a new contract that called for arbitration of union grievances

Initially, the strike was peaceful. Union members picketed outside the locked gates of the mills, which Cooper had closed in response to the strike. But, as late January approached, workers grew increasingly frustrated with management’s refusal to return to the bargaining table. Community leaders, too, grew edgy, concerned that the strike would hinder Henderson’s ability to attract new industries. And local businesses began to complain of lost revenues.

In early February, company officials decided to resume production. Before reopening the mills, they sent recruiters into communities throughout North Carolina and Virginia to find potential strikebreakers. Management also sought legal means to prevent strikers from preventing a new workforce from entering the plants. On February 9, with management’s encouragement, a local businessman crossed the picket lines with a load of cotton. As the man’s truck approached the factory gates, strikers surrounded it and pulled the driver from the cab. The incident sparked a Superior Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order barring strikers from interfering with “free ingress and egress” to and from the mills. The judge also limited the number of pickets to eight, ruled that picketers had to stand at least seventy-five feet from mill gates, and ordered that strikers direct no “vile, abusive, violent or threatening language” toward managers or strikebreakers.

Tasked with upholding the judge’s orders, local law enforcement appealed to the state for help. In response Governor Luther Hodges, a former textile executive, sent 30 members of the State Highway Patrol to Henderson. The state troopers were on guard February 16 when the mills reopened with newly-hired workers and some strike-breaking union members. Two nights later several bombs exploded in the mill villages. One explosion took place in the yard of a Local 584 member who had returned to work. The blast caused little damage and no injuries. And, although those responsible were unknown, many blamed strikers. But Payton of the TWUA suggested that the violence might have been instigated by forces seeking to discredit the TWUA and justify the continued presence of the State Highway Patrol in Henderson.

There was additional violence several days later. On February 23 Cooper announced that the company would hire permanent replacements for those who hadn’t returned to work and that any new contract would grant strikebreakers seniority over strikers. Shortly after Cooper’s announcement, Payton reported being clubbed unconscious in his hotel room by a group of attackers. The next day, February 24, several picketers threw rocks at strikebreakers’ cars. In response, state troopers began escorting strikebreakers into the mills.

The Highway Patrol’s increased role in protecting strikebreakers led Payton to accuse state officials of siding with Cooper and his company. But Hodges argued that state law enforcement only was seeking to maintain order. When bombings, vandalism and other violence continued through February and into early March, Hodges sent the SBI to investigate. Suspecting union involvement in the violence, agents put Payton under surveillance. But the SBI’s investigation failed to produce quick results and the violence continued, with continued bombings and street battles occurring between picketers on one side and the highway patrol and strikebreakers on the other.

Photograph from “The Henderson Story,” published by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills.
Photograph from “The Henderson Story,” published by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills.

On March 3 Hodges sent an additional 100 members of the Highway Patrol to Henderson, a move that put a total of 146 troopers in the city and resulted in one-quarter of the statewide force being based there. Hodges also prodded the Cooper to make concessions. When negotiations failed to produce results, Hodges chose to personally intervene. He called for both sides to meet with him in Raleigh.

Continued negotiations under the governor’s supervision produced an agreement on April 17. The proposed contract stipulated that arbitration would occur with the mutual consent of the union and management. Workers would also retain the right to strike if the company refused arbitration. Negotiations also produced agreement that strikebreakers would retain all first-shift jobs, but remaining shifts would be filled by strikers.

Photograph from “The Henderson Story,” published by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills.
Photograph from “The Henderson Story,” published by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills.

But the agreement was short-lived. It unraveled when strikers learned that management had only retained 30 jobs for them and had given the remainder to strikebreakers. Accusations that management had negotiated in bad faith were followed by additional violence. Facing criticism for his use of the Highway Patrol, Hodges ordered the state troopers replaced by the National Guard in May. Henderson took on the look of a town under military occupation as several hundred soldiers with bayonet-tipped rifles arrived to maintain peace.

Also in early May a special session of superior court was held to try those arrested for violating the restraining order. More than 60 union members and sympathizers were convicted and given jail sentences, fines, terms on county road gangs or some combination of the punishments.

Payton and his co-defendants appeared for trial in July. The state’s case against them rested on testimony from Harold Aaron, a textile worker and union member from Leaksville in Rockingham County. Aaron had moved to Henderson to find work as a strikebreaker. Union officials hoped to use him as a spy inside the mills. But, unbeknownst to them, he was also working as an informant for the State Bureau of Investigation. Under the direction of the SBI, Aaron met with several strikers in a bugged motel room in Roanoke Rapids, about 30 miles from Henderson. Prosecutors contended that Aaron and the strikers discussed blowing up the offices and a boiler room at the Harriet mills and destroying an electrical substation that provided power to the plants. According to the prosecution the plotters agreed to meet again on June 13 to carry out their plan. When the group assembled that evening, SBI agents rushed in to arrest them. No dynamite or other explosives were found.

Both the prosecution and the defense agreed that Payton was not present at the June 4 meeting, nor was he among the group arrested on June 13. But the state argued that Payton had knowledge of the conspiracy because of a telephone call on June 4. On that evening Aaron telephoned a Henderson hotel room that TWUA officials were using as an office. Payton answered the phone, acknowledged that he knew Aaron and then said, “Don’t say too much over this phone—it is going through a switchboard.” Payton and his attorneys argued that union officials offered such warnings to all callers because the hotel in which they were staying was owned by the Cooper family. Furthermore, they added, Payton’s comments were insufficient evidence of participation in a conspiracy.

Despite the defendants’ claims of entrapment a jury returned guilty verdicts on all charges. The judge sentenced Payton and two other regional TWUA officials to six to ten years in prison. The five strikers received slightly lesser sentences. The eight defendants immediately appealed their convictions and remained free on bail as their cases wound their way through the appeals process. Hodges declined to grant pardons or commute the defendants’ sentences. When the N.C. Supreme Court denied the appeal, Payton and his co-defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court. But the high court refused to hear the case in October 1960. Shortly thereafter Payton and his co-defendants began serving their prison sentences.

As Payton and his co-defendants settled into prison life, newspapermen and others campaigned for their release. Supporters included Charlotte Observer columnist Kays Gary, Carolina Israelite publisher Harry Golden, Raleigh News and Observer editor Jonathan Daniels, Raleigh minister William W. Finlator Sr. and evangelist Billy Graham. In addition to penning articles, the group wrote letters to Terry Sanford, who became North Carolina’s governor in January 1961. Their efforts eventually paid off in July 1961 when Sanford reduced the defendants’ sentences. The governor’s action made four of the men immediately eligible for parole. A fifth had already been paroled. Payton and his two TWUA colleagues were required to wait until August for parole. Three years later, on New Year’s Eve 1964, the day his term as governor expired, Sanford granted a full pardon to Payton. The governor declined to do the same for the remaining seven, noting that the evidence against Payton was different and insufficient to support the verdict.

By the time he received his pardon, Payton had ceased working for the Textile Workers Union of America. The Henderson strike, too, was over, having ended on May 26, 1961, when the TWUA’s executive council in New York voted to call an end to protests. The strike brought no concessions from Cooper, in effect allowing management to destroy the TWUA locals. Most of the strikers never worked another day in the Harriet and Henderson mills. And the memories and divisions created by the unrest in Henderson plagued the city for years.

Suggestions for further reading:

Cartwright, Perry. “The Henderson Trial: Will the Trial of Textile Union Leaders Break the Back of Southern Unions and Make the South Safe for Industry?Southern Newsletter 4.1 (August-September 1959): 0-3

Cater, Douglass. “Labor’s Long Trial in Henderson, N.C.” The Reporter Sept. 14, 1961: 36-40.

Clark, Daniel J. Like Night & Day: Unionization in a Southern Mill Town. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Payton, Boyd E. Scapegoat: Prejudice/Politics/Prison. Philadelphia: Whitmore Publishing Co., 1970.

The Henderson Story. Henderson, N.C.: Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills, 1961.

Image Sources:

“The Henderson Trial.” Cover of Southern Newsletter, in North Carolina Carolina Collection.

Boyd Payton and strikers from “The Henderson Story,” a compilation of articles on the Harriet and Henderson strikes from America’s Textile Reporter magazine. Republished by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills, in North Carolina Collection.

Bleeding man from “The Henderson Story,” a compilation of articles on the Harriet and Henderson strikes from America’s Textile Reporter magazine. Republished by Harriet and Henderson Cotton Mills, in North Carolina Collection.

October 1942: The Southern Conference on Race Relations and the “Durham Manifesto”

This Month in North Carolina History

Cover of Southern Conference on Race Relations statement of purpose
As he opened the Southern Conference on Race Relations on October 20, 1942, sociologist Gordon B. Hancock compared the meeting of fifty-seven African-American professionals to the gatherings of revolutionaries two centuries before in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. “The matter handled in Faneuil Hall was delicate, but it was firmly handled and the world thereby was blessed,” he told those assembled at the North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) in Durham. “So in this historic meeting today, whatever advance step we may make in race relations will rebound to the advantage of the South and nation no less than to the advancement of the Negro race.”

Hancock, a 57-year-old professor at Virginia Union University in Richmond and a nationally-syndicated columnist for African-American newspapers, had joined with several other prominent African-Americans from the South in calling the Durham meeting. They were concerned about the poor state of relations between blacks and whites in the South. Lynchings were still occurring. Black unemployment was high. And, as had happened during World War I, African-American soldiers were fighting for democracy overseas while facing segregation at home. In a December 1941 column titled “Interracial Hypertension”, Hancock had cautioned that “unless matters are speedily taken in hand and shaped according to some constructive plan, we shall probably lose many important gains in race relations that have been won through many years, through sweat and tears.” In a subsequent column, Hancock called for a “Southern Charter for Race Relations.” Such a document, Hancock wrote, would “set out specific demands such as the moral right to work for an honest living; the right to share equitably in the educational opportunities, without which [African-Americans] cannot function in a democracy; the right to vote for the mayors and governors, law makers and law enforcers, officials who control [African-Americans’] daily life, as well as for the President, who is powerless in local affairs.”

Hancock’s call for a charter sparked interest from other African-American leaders. Luther P. Jackson, a historian at Virginia State College in Petersburg, and P. B. Young Sr., the publisher of the Norfolk Journal & Guide, joined in the push for a conference to draft the document. Young even published a feeler in the May 24, 1942 issue of his paper, asking readers whether they would attend such a meeting. The response was largely positive.

Once agreed on a time and place for the meeting, the planners focused on the list of invitees. Jackson argued that they should invite African-American leaders from throughout the country. But Hancock and Young worried that such a move would lead Southern whites to dismiss the meeting as the work of Northern agitators. Eventually their view prevailed.

Planners sent invitations to seventy-five prominent African-American professionals living in the South. And on October 20th, 1942, fifty-seven people showed up in Durham for the meeting. Others sent letters or telegrams of support. Attendees included university presidents, educators, ministers, physicians, businessmen, labor union officials and social workers. Conferees were mostly male, with only 5 women participating. Noted African-American writer and scholar W. E. B. DuBois had been invited. But he declined the invitation.

After officially designating the meeting the Southern Conference on Race Relations and listening to Hancock’s keynote address, conferees split into seven committees to discuss specific issues affecting African-Americans. Groups looked at political and civil rights, industry and labor, service occupations, education, agriculture, military service, and social welfare and health. They spent the day drafting reports that outlined their complaints and offered remedies.

As the day’s deliberations drew to a close, Benjamin E. Mays, president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, urged attendees to draft a conference statement. Charles S. Johnson, a sociologist at Fisk University in Nashville, was selected to lead the drafting committee. The group immediately set to work. But they were unable to complete the document by day’s end and they chose to continue their discussions at subsequent meetings. During deliberations in Atlanta (November 6, 1942) and Richmond (November 26, 1942) members seemed to fall into three camps – those who wanted a complete and unequivocal denunciation of segregation, particularly in education; those that feared a strong denunciation of segregation would threaten partnership with Southern, white liberals and consequently favored wording that showed an openness to compromise; and those who favored conciliatory language that opposed segregation and stressed the importance of economic opportunities for blacks.

It fell to Johnson to synthesize the various views into one statement and he did so, releasing A Basis for Inter-racial Cooperation and Development in the South: A Statement by Southern Negroes on December 15, 1942. The document, which came to be known as the “Durham Manifesto,” broached the topic of integration in a carefully worded preamble. Johnson wrote that conferees were “fundamentally opposed to the principle and practice of compulsory segregation,” but that they regarded “it as both sensible and timely to address ourselves now to the current problems of racial discrimination and neglect and to ways in which we may cooperate” in improving race relations. The statement then laid out steps for improving the treatment of African-Americans in education, the legal system, farming, the workforce, the military and health care.

The Southern white press had generally favorable reactions to the statement. But the African-American press was mixed in its response. The Houston Informer called the statement an “historical achievement destined to play a large part in bringing about adjustments” and a blueprint for African-American rights. But the Carolina Times, published in Durham, was less enthusiastic. Editor and publisher Louis Austin wrote that he thought the statement would do neither harm nor good. “About the only purpose it can serve is to give Negro intellectuals in the South an opportunity to show off by appearing profound, and Negro hirelings an opportunity to square themselves with the bosses of the opposite group…” he wrote. “So we say let the ‘Leading Southern Negroes’ rave. They no more have the leadership of the mass of Negroes in the South than if they didn’t exist. Let them get out their little statements and have their little meetings from time to time; it’s good exercise for them.”

Despite the mixed reaction to the “Durham Manifesto” from the African-American press, several prominent African-American leaders expressed their support. Both W.E.B. DuBois and Walter White, the head of the NAACP, backed the statement.

Many prominent Southern white moderates and liberals also found the “Durham Manifesto” inspiring. More than 100 of them met in Atlanta in April 8, 1943, to discuss it and then released their own statement in support and calling for further black-white dialogue to improve race relations. At subsequent meetings in Richmond and in Atlanta, a committee of African-Americans and Southern whites worked out plans for a bi-racial organization in the South. And in February 1944, the Southern Regional Council (SRC) held its charter meeting in Atlanta. Under the leadership of UNC-Chapel Hill sociologists Howard Odum and Guy Johnson, Fisk University’s Charles Johnson, and Atlanta University sociologist Ira Reid, the Atlanta-based organization began its fight against racial injustice—a battle that it continues to wage today through advocacy, education, and research. The Southern Conference on Race Relations may be all-but-forgotten, but its offspring lives on.


Egerton, John. Speak now against the day: the generation before the civil rights movement in the South. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Gavins, Raymond. The perils and prospects of southern Black leadership: Gordon Blaine Hancock, 1884-1970. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1977.

Holloway, Lin. How southern conference of race leaders became standing goodwill group. Atlanta: Southern Regional Council, 1958.

Hancock, Gordon B. Interracial hypertension. Atlanta: Commission on Interracial Cooperation, 1942.

Hancock, Gordon B. Needed…: a southern charter for race relations. Atlanta: Commission on Interracial Cooperation, 1942.

Southern Conference on Race Relations. Southern Conference on Race Relations, Durham, N.C., October 20, 1942: statement of purpose…. [Durham, N.C.?: Southern Conference on Race Relations?, 1943?]

The Southern Regional Council: its origin and purpose. Atlanta: Southern Regional Council, 1944.

Image Source:

Southern Conference on Race Relations. Southern Conference on Race Relations, Durham, N.C., October 20, 1942: statement of purpose…. [Durham, N.C.?: Southern Conference on Race Relations?, 1943?]

August 1957: Igor Bensen and the ʺGyrocopterʺ

This Month in North Carolina History

Bensen Gyrocopter

In August 1957 Igor Bensen landed a “roadable” gyrocopter at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh and then drove it to Cameron Village to do some shopping. Later his wife met him in a station wagon. They then packed the gyrocopter in the back and went home. The unusual flying machine was designed and manufactured by Bensen Aircraft Corporation, located near the Raleigh-Durham Airport, and the colorful stunt was typical of Bensen — scientist, engineer, inventor, test pilot, and priest.

Igor Bensen was born in Russia in 1917. Fleeing war and revolution, his family moved first to Czechoslovakia, where Bensen received his early education, and then to the United States. Bensen began his training in engineering in Belgium and completed it at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey in 1940. For a number of years he worked for General Electric, taking a leading part in designing and testing everything from air conditioning units to electron microscopes.

The work that interested him the most, however, was the development of rotary-wing aircraft. As a child, Bensen had drawn a picture of a “flying chair” and had been deeply disappointed when his father told him it wouldn’t work. As an adult, Bensen spent most of his life designing, building, and testing helicopters and gyrocopters.

For General Electric Bensen studied the application of jet propulsion to helicopters, but increasingly his personal interest focused on gyrocopters. A gyrocopter, also called an autogyro, looks like a small helicopter but operates in a very different way. The rotating blades of a helicopter are powered by the aircraft’s engine. The blades of a gyrocopter are set spinning by the flow of air as the aircraft moves forward. A small engine and propeller, mounted either in the front or rear, give the gyrocopter its forward thrust. Once the blades are spinning, however, they serve as the gyrocopter’s “wing,” providing the lift to fly.

In practical terms this means that while a helicopter can take off straight up, a gyrocopter needs a short run along the ground to become airborne. It also lands more like a conventional aircraft, but needs very little stopping room once it is on the ground. Bensen believed that there was a great future for the gyrocopter as a sports aircraft. He also looked on it as an airplane for everyman — easy and safe to fly, inexpensive to build and maintain.

The first gyrocopter Bensen built in Raleigh was made from parts he picked up in local hardware stores. Bensen Aircraft developed a number of different models of gyrocopters and sold them for the most part in kits. An active and imaginative promoter of his aircraft, Bensen encouraged the organization of gyrocopter enthusiasts into clubs and associations.

In addition to his business interests, Bensen remained active as a scientific researcher and inventor. He came to believe that human beings were the weak link in the increasingly intricate modern technological system. He thought that scientists should pay more attention to the human side of the equation. For him this came to mean increased participation in the activities of the Greek Orthodox Church in which he became a deacon and ultimately a priest.

Popular Rotorcraft Association, Raleigh, N.C.
Popular Rotorcraft Association, Raleigh, N.C.

Bensen’s gyrocopter never became the personal airplane of the people as he had hoped. Sales began falling off in the 1980s. In 1988 Bensen Aircraft closed and twelve years later Igor Bensen died. The gyrocopter may not have caught the popular imagination, but Bensen left behind a small army of gyrocopter owners who maintain their “flying chairs” with care and fly them with enthusiasm.


North Carolina People, Places, and Things database. Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.

Image Sources:

Bensen Gyrocopter” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

“[Popular Rotorcraft Association, Raleigh, N.C.]” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

July 1813: Otway Burns and the Snap Dragon

This Month in North Carolina History


In July 1813 Otway Burns of New Bern, North Carolina, applied to the United States government for a Letter of Marque and Reprisal, thus launching the career of North Carolina’s most successful privateer.

Burns was a shipmaster in the coastal trade sailing between New York and New Bern with occasional trips as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as the Caribbean. Returning from such a voyage in 1813 he learned that war had broken out between the United States and Great Britain. Burns formed a joint stock company with several businessmen in New Bern to arm and outfit a ship to prey on British commerce. Finding a suitably fast and maneuverable ship in New York, he purchased it and renamed it the Snap Dragon.

With the receipt of his Letter of Marque, Otway Burns became a privateer. Since the 13th century, European and, later, American countries had commissioned private citizens to attack their enemies in time of war. The United States Constitution specifically empowers Congress to issue such letters.

A Letter of Marque (also called a Letter of Marque and Reprisal) allowed a private ship owner to use his vessel to capture enemy shipping. The Letter set down the rules under which this could be done. A captured ship had to be taken to an American port where a United States District Court would decide whether it was in fact an enemy vessel and whether the Letter of Marque was valid. If the court decided in favor of the privateer, the ship and its cargo were condemned and sold at public auction with the proceeds being divided between the owner and crew of the privateering vessel.

Supporters of the privateer system argued that it allowed a country with a small navy dramatically to increase its naval power in wartime. Opponents of the system argued that it was little more than legitimized piracy, and in fact several well known pirates had obtained dubious Letters of Marque as a cover for their criminal activity.

American privateers as a whole did substantial damage to British shipping in the War of 1812, capturing, by one estimate, more than 1300 British ships. Burns and the Snap Dragon contributed their share to that total. There is no complete record of the career of the Snap Dragon, but one authority estimates that she engaged 67 British vessels, capturing 42 of them. Another authority states that on one voyage Burns captured ten ships, with 250 prisoners and cargo valued at more than a million dollars.

Although Burns’ primary target was the British merchant fleet, he was involved several times in scrapes with enemy war ships. Burns made three voyages but was prevented by rheumatism from sailing a fourth time in May 1814. On this trip, under Captain W. R. Graham, the career of the Snap Dragon ended when she was captured by the British sloop-of-war Martin.

After the war, Burns turned to mercantile interests and ship building. He began a political career in 1821 and served in a number of General Assemblies, until 1835. In that year he was one of the few votes from eastern North Carolina in favor of calling a constitutional convention to consider increasing the political representation from the western part of the state and the popular election of the governor. The vote ended his political life but earned him much gratitude in the west. Burnsville, the seat of Yancey County in the North Carolina mountains, was named for him.


Battle, Kemp P. “Otway Burns, Privateer and Legislator,” North Carolina University Magazine, Old Series 32:1 (October 1901).

Robinson, Jack. Remembering a local legend: Captain Otway Burns and his ship Snap Dragon. Wilmington, NC: Lulu, c.2006.

Image Source:

Burns, Walter Francis. Captain Otway Burns, Patriot, Privateer, and Legislator. New York, 1905.

June 1791: George Washington Visits Salem, NC

This Month in North Carolina History

“Old Tavern Where George Washington Was Entertained In 1791, Winston-Salem, N.C.” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill. View in the digital Durwood Barbour collection.

In the spring of 1791 President George Washington began a tour of the southern states, not only to learn first hand about the condition of the country but also to give the citizens of the young United States a chance to meet their first President. The tremendous enthusiasm with which Washington was greeted as he journeyed to New York after his election must surely have revealed to him the great admiration in which he was held.

A proponent of the new constitution and determined that the government created under that constitution be firmly rooted in the support of the people, Washington saw the advantage of linking his popularity as closely as possible to the new government. As president he tried to remain a national symbol, staying as much as possible above political strife. His tour of the southern states, as well as visits to other parts of the country, also helped to strengthen the growing sense of American union.

Washington’s travels during his presidency were also a testimony to his remarkable physical stamina. In his late fifties at the time of the southern tour, with years of military campaigning behind him, the rigors of travel in America at the end of the eighteenth century had little impact on him. His day often began well before dawn, and Washington would cover as much as fifteen miles before breakfast. In bad weather he traveled in a carriage, but if the day was fine he was in the saddle.

Washington must also have felt the stress of being the most popular figure in the country. Wherever he went Washington was lionized. People poured out to see him in cities, towns, and villages all along his itinerary. Meeting and greeting, speeches, dinners and entertainments were all part of the routine. With as many as a dozen toasts at a dinner, Washington either had an amazing head for alcohol or took very small sips.

Washington first traveled south through the eastern parts of the Carolinas and Georgia and then returned to Virginia by a route that took him farther to the west. He entered North Carolina on the return trip late in May near Charlotte. Passing on through the state, Washington intended to spend the night in Salem, and word came to the town to expect the President in the afternoon of May 31st.

It is easy to imagine that Washington’s visit to Salem, while it was certainly the occasion of much enthusiasm was also the cause of a bit of anxiety. Throughout the south Washington’s tour was a celebration of the Revolution. He was hailed as the Father of his Country. Speeches and toasts memorialized his service in the war against Britain. Many of those who greeted and entertained him had been his fellow soldiers in that war. Salem was something of an exception.

The Moravians of Salem and the surrounding countryside — the old tract of Wachovia — had, at the time of the American Revolution, a tradition of pacifism going back more than three hundred years. When hostilities began between the British government and its colonial opponents the Moravians asked to be left alone. The official diary of the Moravian settlements records simply, “It does not accord with our character as Brethren to mix in such political affairs, we are children of peace.” To patriots or loyalists, who were sacrificing much for their cause, this was hard to accept. The Moravian settlements were persecuted by both sides as they tried to maintain their religious commitment.

Whatever concern there may have been, the meeting between the President and the Moravians went smoothly and pleasantly. We are fortunate to have several accounts of Washington’s visit to Salem, the most important ones being the diary of the President himself and the official diary of the Moravian community. Washington was impressed with the neat orderly appearance of the town as well as with the demeanor of its inhabitants. He considered it a well governed, hard-working community. The people of Salem were impressed with Washington’s simple, friendly manner, particularly with children.

The Moravians loved music, and Washington was so pleased with the band which played for him on his arrival that he asked if he could have music to accompany his dinner. The next day, June 1, Washington toured Salem, visiting its workshops and Choir houses. He was particularly taken with the waterworks. In the afternoon the leaders of the community made a formal address to the President to which he responded. Governor Alexander Martin arrived late in the afternoon, and he and the President attended a “singstunde” with singing and instrumental music. At four o’clock on the morning of June 2nd, the presidential party left Salem and on June 9 crossed back into Virginia.


Alden, John R. George Washington: a biography. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, c. 1984.

Henderson Archibald. Washington’s southern tour, 1791. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923.

Fries, Adelaide, ed. Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Vol. V. Raleigh, NC: The North Carolina Historical Commission, 1941.

Image Source:

“Old Tavern Where George Washington Was Entertained In 1791, Winston-Salem, N.C.” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.