April 1960: Creation of the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee

Demonstration at Brady's Restaurant, Chapel Hill, February 11, 1964
Demonstration at Brady’s Restaurant, Chapel Hill, February 11, 1964

This Month in North Carolina History

In February 1960, when four African American students from what was then the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina defied the law and custom of the racially segregated South by sitting down to be served at the lunch counter of the Woolworth store on Elm Street in Greensboro, they sparked a protest movement that rapidly spread from North Carolina through the rest of the South and the United States as a whole. The “sit-in” movement affected every part of American society, but it particularly galvanized black students. Realizing the potential in this outpouring of youthful energy, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, under its executive director, Ella Baker, convened a meeting of local and regional student activists in Raleigh, North Carolina, at Shaw University, Baker’s alma mater, April 15 through 17, 1960. Representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congress of Racial Equality, among others, lobbied the assembled students to align themselves with one of the established civil rights organizations. From the very beginning, however, there was a strong sentiment in the meeting for the creation of a grassroots coalition run by students themselves. Many felt that the mainline movements were not radical enough and that the student led sit-ins had broken new ground in the fight against segregation. This was echoed in strong speeches by James Lawson and Martin Luther King, Jr., criticizing the more conservative elements in the movement. In the end, the meeting voted to create a separate entity, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to pursue a new vision of civil rights protest.

SNCC (pronounced “snick”), while it was rooted in African American civil rights protest, shared many of the goals and aspirations of the radical culture of the 1960s. SNCC attempted to create democratic decision making, emphasizing consensus building from the ground up. Both men and women participated in the organization in its early years, and many white students joined. In many ways SNCC became the cutting edge of a new civil rights militancy. SNCC provided many of the “Freedom Riders” on the integrated bus trips through the South sponsored by the Congress on Racial Equality in 1961. SNCC volunteers also participated enthusiastically in voter registration drives throughout the South. In all of these activities SNCC volunteers dealt with verbal abuse, physical violence, and the threat of death. In the mid-1960s SNCC had the largest staff of any civil rights organization in the South and had become a force to be reckoned with.

Increasingly in the late 1960s SNCC moved in the direction of Black Power, eventually rejecting its nonviolent roots and its racial inclusiveness before it faded from the scene in the 1970s. Its impact on the civil rights movement, however, was important and lasting. SNCC was a key element in shifting the movement away from a legalistic vision of reform to a direct, if nonviolent, confrontation with the segregated system. It provided what some have called the “shock troops” of this direct confrontation in some of the most difficult and dangerous times of the civil rights struggle. Former president Jimmy Carter is supposed to have said that if you wanted to scare the white people of the South you only needed one word – SNCC.

Carson, Clayborne. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, c.1995.

Lewis, Andrew B. The Shadows of Youth: the Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation. New York: Hill and Wang, 2009.

Image Source:
“Demonstration at Brady’s Restaurant, Chapel Hill, February 11, 1964,” in North Carolina County Collection (P0001), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

April 1924: American Painter Kenneth Noland Born in Asheville

This Month in North Carolina History

Kenneth NolandAmerican painter Kenneth Noland was born on April 10, 1924, and this April marks his 85th birthday. Noland served in the Air Force during World War II and returned to Asheville after the war. He then took advantage of the GI Bill to attend art school at the experimental Black Mountain College near Asheville, and began his studies there in 1946.

There were several important artists on the faculty while Noland was at Black Mountain College, including Josef Albers and Ilya Bolotowsky. These acclaimed teachers were prominent artists in their own right: Albers came out of the Bauhaus School and Bolotowsky was a Cubist. Because Albers was on sabbatical most of the time Noland was at BMC, Noland worked primarily under Bolotowsky, but he did take Albers’ design class once he returned to teach. Both Albers and Bolotowsky had profound impacts on Noland’s work, as did the artists they introduced in their classes.

In an anthology of essays about BMC students and their time spent at the school titled Black Mountain College: Sprouted Seeds, Mervin Lane recounts an interview he had with Kenneth Noland in 1988:

Ken remembers with affection the entrance to the College, which has been designed by Albers. There was no gate, but there was a fairly long run of three or four white horizontal boards on both sides— and for a good stretch, leading toward the entrance. Ken remarked that those bright white boards gently angled through such interesting and gradual changes toward the opening that the visual effect was uninterrupted, so that someone entering was sort of ‘streamed’ through and on up the slight incline of the dirt road into the College.

In addition to this memory of the campus’ built environment, Noland also discusses the intangible nuances of BMC as a place. Noland mentions the alertness he felt while he was a student at BMC, and how the collaborative nature between professors and students contributed to his overall experience. In addition to the small size of the college, Kenneth Noland also attributes the success of the program to the school’s location in scenic Asheville, NC. Noland said, “And I also think that it was probably atmospheric. It might have had something to do with the sheer freshness of the environment, of the air there. Don’t you think that’s right?”

Although Noland is North Carolina born and bred, as an artist he is primarily associated with art movements and communities in Washington D.C. and later, New York City. Noland studied many European artists who focused on geometric abstraction and color theory, including Mondrian and Kandinsky, and was also influenced by American artists at the time, including Jackson Pollock and his action paintings. Shapes and color relationships are two major proponents of Noland’s work, which typically features repeating patterns, including concentric circles, chevrons, and parallel lines. Noland is perhaps best known for his “circle” paintings, which express a stylistic connection to the “squares” that are the basis of many of Albers’ works. In fact, Noland’s circle paintings have become iconic for both the artist as well as the period itself.

Noland emphasizes the materiality of the canvas and the process of applying paint by frequently using shaped canvases and a staining method of painting in order to achieve his often fluid relationships between line, color, and form. In addition to the concentric circles Noland paints, examples of this can best be seen where Noland expresses a repeating chevron pattern on a diamond-shaped canvas, or plaid patterns across a square canvas.

Although Noland lived outside of North Carolina after his student days at BMC, the Tar Heel State clearly left a lasting impact on his life and work. In 1995, Noland received a North Carolina Award in Fine Arts for “his innovative and influential work in modern abstract painting, and for enhancing North Carolina’s artistic reputation.” Noland and his wife currently live in Maine, and an article from the Asheville Citizen Times, 2007, reports that the couple purchased plots for a mausoleum in the Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, NC. Other notable residents of the Riverside Cemetery include Thomas Wolfe and Governor Zebulon Vance.

The North Carolina Collection has collected material on both Kenneth Noland and Black Mountain College, including some of BMC’s course catalogs and the Black Mountain College Review For further research, the NC State Archives holds the papers of Black Mountain College.



Mervin Lane, ed. Black Mountain College: Sprouted Seeds, An Anthology of Personal Counts, Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1990.

John Boyle. “Riverside Cemetery gets massive tomb,” in <a href="http://search.lib.unc.edu/search?Ntt=asheville+citizen-times&Ntk=Journal_Title&Nty=1&sugg=s"Asheville Citizen Times, 8 March 2007.

Alison de Lima Greene et al. Kenneth Noland: The Nature of Color. Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, 2004.

“Kenneth Noland” in The North Carolina Awards Committee. The North Carolina Awards: 1995. Raleigh: The Committee, 1995.


Image Source:

“Kenneth Noland” in The North Carolina Awards Committee. The North Carolina Awards: 1995. Raleigh: The Committee, 1995.


External Links:

Because Kenneth Noland’s works are copyrighted, we cannot display them on this website. The link below will take you to The Official Website of Kenneth Noland, where you can view selected works by their creation date.


April 1854: The Fayetteville and Western Plank Road

This Month in North Carolina History

cropped mapAt their annual meeting in April 1854, the stockholders of the Fayetteville and Western Plank Road Company celebrated the completion of their wooden highway. The longest plank road ever built in North Carolina, the Fayetteville and Western stretched 129 miles from the Market House in Fayetteville to the village of Bethania near Salem in Forsyth County. The Fayetteville and Western and a number of other plank roads chartered in North Carolina in the 1850s, were built in response to the miserable condition of overland transportation in the state during the first half of the nineteenth century. Public roads in general were little changed from colonial days. Rutted and rough in good weather, rain turned them into nearly impassable stretches of mud and gloom. Published travel accounts from the period complained bitterly about North Carolina’s horrible roads and blamed them for the state’s economic and social backwardness.

Plank roads, essentially, were highways paved with wood. They appeared to offer several advantages over both stone-paved roads and railroads. They were much less expensive to build and maintain than railroads or roads paved with stone. They could reach small towns and rural areas where rail service was impractical, and they were comparatively quick to build. The state encouraged the building of the Fayetteville and Western by agreeing to invest $120,000 in the company (3/5ths of its stock) if private investors could raise the remaining $80,000. This was quickly done and in October 1849 construction began.

In building the plank road, the Fayetteville and Western first graded, crowned, and compacted the roadbed. Crews dug drainage ditches on either side. Four lines of sills, five by eight inches, were embedded in the prepared road. Eight foot long planks, four inches thick and eight inches wide were laid across the sills and covered with sand. This formed an eight foot wide wooden track which took up roughly half of the road bed. The other half was left so that wagons would have a place to turn off the wooden track when passing. Loaded wagons remained on the wooden surface while empty wagons or carriages moved to the unpaved section. The company built toll houses and gates every eleven miles. Construction costs for the first 88 miles of the road were about $1470 per mile and were in line with costs for building other plank roads.

Revenue for the Fayetteville and Western came from a graduated schedule of tolls. A horse and rider paid one half cent per mile, and wagons paid tolls from one cent to four cents per mile, depending on the number of horses pulling them. Realizing the importance of accurate and honest toll collection, the company made an effort to find reliable toll keepers and paid them $150 a year.

Initial response to the road was enthusiastic, and for the first several years revenues grew. The road was particularly popular with stage coach companies and their passengers. The trip from Fayetteville to Salem, which had previously taken as long as three days, required 18 hours over the Fayetteville and Western Plank Road. The success, however, was more apparent than real. Competition with the railroads, particularly the North Carolina Railroad, was more damaging to the plank road company than its directors had anticipated. Increasingly, users of the road avoided toll stations, bypassing them on older country roads. The most serious problem, however, related to maintenance. The directors of the Fayetteville and Western, based on the experience of plank road companies in Canada and New York State, expected a life span for their road of ten years. Plank roads in North Carolina, however, deteriorated much more quickly, and the road needed replacement after five years. The company had not budgeted for anything like such an expensive maintenance schedule, and by the mid-1850s, revenue was no longer keeping up with expenses. The Civil War, which put a great strain on the road system and disrupted trade and finance, put an end to the struggling Fayetteville and Western, which was abandoned and forgotten.


Report of the Board of Internal Improvements of the Legislature of North Carolina: at the session of 1850-51. Raleigh, NC: Thos. J. Lemay, Printer to the State, 1850.

John A. Oates. The Story of Fayetteville and the Upper Cape Fear. Fayetteville, NC: Fayetteville Woman’s Club, 1981.

Robert B. Starling. “The Plank Road Movement in North Carolina,” North Carolina Historical Review, vol. 16: 1 and 2 (January and April, 1939).

Alan D. Watson. Internal Improvements in Antebellum North Carolina. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2002.

Image Source:

Detail from Pearce’s new map of the state of North Carolina: compiled from actual public and private surveys. Raleigh, NC: Pearce & Williams, 1872. Cm912 1872p.

April 1776: The Halifax Resolves

This Month in North Carolina History

North Carolina claims several contentious superlatives: first in flight (disputed by Ohio since Orville and Wilbur Wright lived in Dayton, Ohio), the first state university (disputed by Georgia since its university was chartered first, though North Carolina’s opened first), and the first declaration of independence, though most historians dispute the veracity of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Even with its questionable credentials, the date of the “Meck-Dec” still adorns North Carolina’s state flag. The other date on the flag, April 12, 1776, however, honors a first that no other state can claim, the “Halifax Resolves.” Though it was not an outright declaration of independence from Great Britain, this resolution, which was unanimously passed at the fourth Provincial Congress meeting in Halifax, North Carolina, was the first official action in which a colony authorized its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence.

Just eight months earlier, North Carolina’s official attitude toward independence was a bit more ambivalent. Facing increasing uncertainties and dealing with the divided loyalties of its populace, the third Provincial Congress issued an “Address to the Inhabitants of the British Empire.” This statement, which sought to justify congress’s actions (such as stockpiling weapons, raising units of soldiers, and preparing for self-government), denied that the colony desired to separate from Great Britain. It claimed allegiance to the crown, asserted that Parliament was at fault for passing undesirable legislation, and reiterated the colony’s desire to return to the relationship that existed between Great Britain and the American colonies in the years prior to the French and Indian War.

From August 1775 to April 1776, the deteriorating situation in North Carolina and other colonies changed how many North Carolinians and their delegates to the provincial congress viewed their relationship with Great Britain. Following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, King George III declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion and withdrew his protection from the colonists. In January 1776, royal governor Josiah Martin issued a call for loyalist troops to assemble and rendezvous with a contingent of the British army that was sailing for North Carolina’s coast. Though patriot militia and Continental Line soldiers intercepted the loyalists and routed them on February 27, 1776, at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, the skirmish still sent shock waves through the province. In addition, British agents continually worked to incite Native Americans, including the Cherokee, along the colony’s frontier, while along the coast, the British navy maintained several war ships. These events and several others forced North Carolina’s patriot leaders to the conclusion that reconciliation on amiable terms was no longer possible.

After the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, the fourth Provincial Congress convened in Halifax on April 4, 1776. Over the first few days, the congress organized itself and formed committees to oversee aspects of the province’s government and military preparations. On April 8, 1776, it created a select committee to consider the “Usurpations and Violences attempted and committed by the King and Parliament of Britain against America, and the further Measures to be taken for frustrating the same, and for the better Defence of this Province.” Four days later, on April 12, the group, which consisted of Thomas Burke, Cornelius Harnett (chairman), Allen Jones, Thomas Jones, John Kinchen, Abner Nash, and Thomas Person, presented a report detailing British atrocities and American responses. The committee believed that further attempts at compromise and reunion would fail, and they offered the following resolution:

That the Delegates for this Colony in the Continental Congress be impowered to concur with the Delegates of the other Colonies in declaring Independency, and forming foreign Alliances, reserving to this Colony the sole and exclusive Right of forming a Constitution and Laws for this Colony, and of appointing Delegates from Time to Time, (under the Direction of a general Representation thereof) to meet the Delegates of the other Colonies, for such Purposes as shall hereafter be pointed out.

The full congress took the recommendations into consideration and unanimously approved of them. The resolution was immediately copied and sent to Philadelphia, where Joseph Hewes, a member of North Carolina’s delegation, shared it with other American representatives. Soon thereafter, other colonies followed North Carolina’s lead, and the foundation was laid for the summer of 1776.

R. D. W. Connor. “North Carolina’s Priority in the Demand for a Declaration of Independence.” Reprinted from the South Atlantic Quarterly, July, 1909.

Robert L. Ganyard. The Emergence of North Carolina’s Revolutionary Government. Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1978.

The Journal of the Proceedings of the Provincial Congress of North Carolina, Held at Halifax on the 4th Day of April, 1776. New Bern, NC: Printed by James Davis, 1776.

April 1899: North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company

This Month in North Carolina History

NCMLlg On the first of April 1899 the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company opened for business in Durham, North Carolina. The first month’s collections, after the payment of commissions, amounted only to $1.12, but from such beginnings North Carolina Mutual grew to be the largest African American managed financial institution in the United States.

Durham at the beginning of the twentieth century was fertile ground for the growth of such an enterprise. Forced out of politics by the successful “White Supremacy” political campaign of 1898, Durham’s African American leaders turned their talents to the business world instead. The African American community of Durham was relatively prosperous and enjoyed better relations with its white counterpart than prevailed in many other communities in the state. The idea of an insurance company, moreover, fit in naturally with a tradition among African Americans of self-help, mutual aid societies or fraternities. John Merrick, born into slavery in 1859, had become by the late 1890s a business success in Durham. Owner of half a dozen barber shops and a real estate business, Merrick was also a member of the Grand United Order of True Reformers, a mutual benefit society organized in Richmond in 1881 which had expanded into insurance and banking. In 1898 Merrick brought together six of Durham’s leading black business and professional men and organized North Carolina Mutual. Guided by the “triumvirate” of John Merrick, Dr. Aaron M. Moore, and Charles Clinton Spaulding, “The Company with a Soul and a Service” survived the hardship of its first years to achieve success and help make Durham’s reputation as a center of African American economic life.

Walter B. Weare. Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, c. 1973.

Image Source:
Employees of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company 1906: Susan V. Gille Norfleet, C.C. Spaulding, Sr., John Merrick. From the North Carolina County Photographic Collection #P0001, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

April 1947: Journey of Reconciliation

This Month in North Carolina History

In 1946, the United States Supreme Court declared that the racial segregation of passengers on interstate buses was an “undue burden on interstate commerce” and could no longer be enforced. Encouraged by the decision, but dubious as to whether it would be followed, the Congress of Racial Equality sponsored a two week “Journey of Reconciliation” through the upper South to test the effectiveness of the Court’s decision.

In April 1947, sixteen people — eight African Americans and eight whites — set off on a tour of cities in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. They traveled by bus with the express purpose of challenging existing Jim Crow laws.

The freedom riders entered North Carolina on April 11 and made stops in Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem. Bus drivers and police officers challenged the passengers at nearly every stop, resulting in arrests in Asheville and Chapel Hill.

One of the riders arrested in Chapel Hill was Bayard Rustin, who was on his way to becoming a prominent Civil Rights leader and is now perhaps best known as the organizer of the 1963 march on Washington where an estimated quarter of a million people gathered to hear Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Rustin was sitting in the front seat of a Trailways bus in Chapel Hill on April 13, and was ordered to move to the back. When he refused, he and the white man sitting next to him were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and for refusing to obey the order of the bus driver. Two more riders were arrested and all four were released on bond and taken to the home of Charles Jones, a local Presbyterian minister who agreed to host the travelers for the night. Before they could leave, a taxi driver assaulted one of the freedom riders, striking James Peck, a white man, in the head. Two cars filled with angry men followed the group back to Rev. Jones’s house where they made several threats before leaving. Wary of more violence if they stayed in Chapel Hill, Rustin and the others left for Greensboro that night.

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1946 decision overturning segregation on interstate carriers, the arrests of the freedom riders were upheld by the North Carolina Supreme Court. The North Carolina Court argued that because the passengers were not travelling outside of the state that day, they were not interstate travellers and thus the Supreme Court decision did not apply to them. Bayard Rustin spent twenty-two days on a prison chain gang in Roxboro.


George Houser and Bayard Rustin. We Challenged Jim Crow!: A Report on the Journey of Reconciliation, April 9-23, 1947. Congress of Racial Equality, [1947].

“4 Men Testing Law Against Segregation Placed Under Arrest.” The Chapel Hill Weekly, 18 April 1957.

“Race Incidents Arise After Bus Seating Arrests.” Daily Tar Heel, 14 April 1947.

Jim Peck, “The First Freedom Ride, 1947.” Southern Exposure, vol. 9 no. 1 (Spring 1981), pp. 36-37.

“State v. Andrew S. Johnson, Bayard Rustin, Igal Roodenko and Joseph A. Felmont.” North Carolina Reports 229, pp. 701-707. North Carolina Collection call number C345.4 N87 v.229

April 1896: Reed Gold Mine

This Month in North Carolina History

goldminingAfter nearly a century of production, the Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus County had been pretty much exhausted. By the end of the 19th century, most prospectors had left for more promising sites in Colorado and Alaska. Jake Shinn was one of a few hopeful miners remaining in North Carolina. On April 9, 1896, Shinn had dug only about three feet deep when he hit something hard. He pulled a big rock out of the ground, shouted, “Boys, I’ve got it!” and rushed to wash off the dirt. The other miners, accustomed to false alarms, paid little attention to Shinn until he returned from the creek carrying a 22-pound gold nugget. At the time of its discovery, it was said to be worth about $4,800; at today’s gold prices, that single rock would sell for more than $100,000.

The first documented discovery of gold in North Carolina occurred nearly a half century before the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California touched off the nation’s most famous gold rush. John Reed (born Johannes Reith) arrived in America as a Hessian soldier in the service of the British Army during the Revolutionary War. After he left the army he settled on a farm in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, about 20 miles from Charlotte. In 1799, Reed’s son Conrad found a shiny yellow rock in the creek on the family property. The rock was used as a doorstop for several years until Reed took it to a jeweler in Fayetteville who informed him that he had been holding open his door with a 17-pound gold nugget. The jeweler offered to purchase it at whatever price Reed named, which he did, leaving the farmer to return home three dollars and fifty cents richer.

Reed soon realized that he had let his soon-to-be famous doorstop go for significantly less than it was worth, but he knew that there were other yellow rocks in his creek. Reed formed a partnership with a few others and began a mining company. The Reed Gold Mine was significant not only for being the first American gold mine, but also for the size of the nuggets that it produced. The largest one, found by a slave named Peter in 1803, was said to weigh 28 pounds. Gold fever struck the state. By 1830 there were 56 gold mines and gold mining was second only to agriculture in the number of North Carolinians it employed. A map of North Carolina circa 1849 prominently featured an inset map of the “Gold Region,” and long before California earned the nickname, North Carolina was known as the “Golden State.” Jake Shinn’s discovery in 1896 renewed interest in the lagging mining industry, but his was the last big strike. Gold mining in the state dwindled through the 20th century until the last operation closed in 1964.

The Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site is now operated by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History and is open to the public. The North Carolina Collection Gallery, in Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has a small exhibit on the state’s gold mining history, including a display of rare Bechtler gold coins, which were minted in North Carolina in the mid-1800s.

Reed Gold Mine State Historic Site, Stanfield, N.C. http://www.nchistoricsites.org/reed/reed.htm

Richard F. Knapp and Brent D. Glass, Gold Mining in North Carolina: A Bicentennial History . Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1999.

Richard F. Knapp, “Golden Promise in the Piedmont: The Story of John Reed’s Mine.” North Carolina Historical Review 52 (January 1975), pages 1-19.

Image Source:
“People seeking for Gold in North Carolina.” In Samuel Griswold Goodrich, The First Book of History for Children and Youth. Boston: Carter, Hendee, and Co., 1833, p. 75.