May 1969: Howard Lee

This Month in North Carolina History

 

Howard Lee

“The placid, academic retreat of Chapel Hill, N.C., has always been something of an anomaly in the South.”
Newsweek, May 19, 1969.

Whenever Chapel Hill, North Carolina elected a new mayor, few people outside of the small college town paid much attention. But when the 1969 mayoral race came to a close, newspapers and magazines from around the state, nation, and world reported the news. Time and Newsweek ran profiles of the new mayor and his photograph appeared prominently in a West German newspaper. Why all the fuss? When the votes were counted and the election was certified, on May 6, 1969, Howard Lee became the first African American mayor elected in a predominantly white southern town since Reconstruction.

Lee had lived in Chapel Hill only five years when he decided to run for mayor. He moved to North Carolina from his native Georgia in 1964 to attend the University of North Carolina. Lee earned a master’s degree in Social Work in 1966 and was hired to direct a research program at Duke.

When Lee and his wife began to look for a home, they found that, despite the town’s progressive reputation, race was still very much an issue in Chapel Hill. The Lees encountered white residents who were reluctant to have an African American family move into their neighborhood, and realtors who hesitated to show them homes in white subdivisions. When, after six months of searching, they were finally able to purchase a home in the Colony Woods neighborhood, they received harassing phone calls and a cross was burned on their front lawn. The experience inspired Lee to enter local politics.

The 1969 race for mayor set records. The 4,734 votes cast were the most in town history, and included a record turnout from the Chapel Hill’s African American community, which made up nearly ten percent of the population. The race was close: Lee’s margin of victory – about 400 votes – was the smallest on record for a municipal election. He defeated Roland Giduz, a former newspaper editor and long-time member of the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen.

Lee served three terms as mayor of Chapel Hill. He received 64 percent of the vote in the 1971 election, and 89 percent in 1973. Lee ran for Congress in 1972 and for lieutenant governor in 1976, and though he lost both races in the Democratic primaries, his career in politics was far from over. He was appointed as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Community Development in 1977 and served in the state senate from 1990-1994 and 1996-2002. Lee is currently the chair of the State Board of Education, the first African American to hold that position.


Sources:

Howard Lee campaign materials. In North Carolina Collection Biographical Clippings, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Childs, Jack, “Negro Wins in Chapel Hill.” News and Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), May 7, 1969.

Bridgette A. Lacy, “On His Honor.” News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), February 20, 1995.

Shinkle, Kevin. “Lee Mulls Run Against Sen. Helms.” The Chapel Hill Newspaper, September 25, 1989.

 

Image source:

Howard Lee campaign brochure, 1969. North Carolina Collection Biographical Clippings. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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.


Sources
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.

March 1825: Lafayette Visits Fayetteville

This Month in North Carolina History

Detail of John MacRae, “This Plate of the Town of Fayetteville North Carolina so called in honor of that distinguished Patriot and Philanthropist Genl. La Fayette is respectfully dedicated to him by the Publisher.” Fayetteville, N.C.: [1825].

Early 19th-century North Carolina was not a place that international celebrities were likely to visit. Lacking large and cosmopolitan cities and with a primarily agricultural economy, North Carolina was well on its way to earning the nickname, “the Rip Van Winkle state.” So it was no small thing when North Carolinians learned, in November 1824, about the impending visit of an aging Frenchman with the impressive name of Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.

Lafayette’s story would have been known to most Americans in 1824. Lafayette was a young officer in the French Royal Army when he first learned of the American Revolution in 1775. He was so inspired by the rebellion of the colonists against what he saw as the tyrannical oppression of the British that he left France to join the Continental Army. Lafayette began as a volunteer on George Washington’s staff and soon developed a close friendship with the American General. With Washington’s help and counsel, Lafayette rose to the rank of Major-General, leading Continental forces in the successful battle at Yorktown in 1781.

For the remainder of his life, Lafayette continued to fight and argue for the principles of freedom and liberty that were behind the American Revolution. When Lafayette accepted President James Monroe’s invitation to return to the United States for the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution, he was the oldest living Revolutionary War Major-General.

After spending time in New England and Washington, D.C., Lafayette began his long tour through the states, bringing him south through Virginia and eventually to North Carolina. He stopped in Halifax, where the North Carolina delegation that endorsed a declaration of independence from England met in 1776, and then went to Raleigh, where he was received by Governor Hutchins Gordon Burton and attended several dinners and balls in his honor. But by far the largest reception for Lafayette awaited him in Fayetteville.

At the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the citizens of Campbellton, in Cumberland County, decided to show their appreciation to General Lafayette by changing the name of their town to Fayetteville. It was the first of many American towns to do so. There are now towns or cities named Fayetteville in eight states, ten Lafayettes, and still others named LaGrange in honor of Lafayette’s home in France (including LaGrange, North Carolina, in Lenoir County). The weather was horrible when Lafayette and his entourage neared Fayetteville in early March 1825, but the rain did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds. Lafayette’s secretary remembered the scene:

“On the 4th of March, we reached the pleasant little town of Fayetteville, situated on the western shore of Cape Fear river. The weather was excessively bad; the rain fell in torrents, yet the road for several miles before we reached the place was crowded with men and boys on horseback, and militia on foot; the streets of the town were filled with a throng of ladies, in full dress, hastening across the little streams of water, to approach the General’s carriage, and so much occupied with the pleasure of seeing him that they appeared almost insensible of the deluge which threatened almost to swallow them up. This enthusiasm may be more readily imagined, when it is recollected that it was expressed by the inhabitants of a town founded, about forty years ago, to perpetuate the remembrance of the services rendered by him whom they honored on that day.”

Although he stayed in Fayetteville for only about 24 hours, Lafayette was honored by several banquets and receptions, reviewed countless militia and state troops, and had time to inspect the brand new Lafayette Hotel, hurried to completion in time for his visit. As he prepared to depart for South Carolina, Lafayette offered a toast to the town: “Fayetteville. – May it receive all the encouragements and attain all the prosperity which are anticipated by the fond and grateful wishes of its affectionate and respectful namesake.”


Sources
Stanley J. Idzerda, “Marquis de Lafayette.” In American National Biography, edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. Volume 13. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Marian Klamkin, The Return of Lafayette, 1824-1825. New York: Scribner’s, 1975.

Auguste Levasseur, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825; or, Journal of Travels, in the United States. New York: White, Gallaher & White, 1829, vol. 2, p. 44. Levasseur was Lafayette’s secretary during his American trip.

Marshall DeLancey Haywood, “The Visit of General Lafayette to North Carolina in 1825.” The American Historical Register, May 1897.

Image Source:
John MacRae, “This Plate of the Town of Fayetteville North Carolina so called in honor of that distinguished Patriot and Philanthropist Genl. La Fayette is respectfully dedicated to him by the Publisher.” Fayetteville, N.C.: [1825]. Detail. North Carolina Collection.

February 1820: Bunkum

This Month in North Carolina History

Asheville and the Land of the Sky tourist brochure

On February 25, 1820, during the contentious debate over the Missouri Compromise, Representative Felix Walker from North Carolina rose to speak before Congress. Walker’s speech was rambling, had little relevance to the immediate debate, and several members tried to cut him off. Walker refused to yield the floor, informing his colleagues that his speech was not intended for Congress, but for his constituents at home in Buncombe County. His statement was reprinted in a Washington paper the next day and the phrase “speaking for Buncombe” began to be used by other Congressmen and by journalists describing frivolous, self-serving speeches.

The word “buncombe,” often misspelled as “bunkum,” soon came to refer to any sort of spurious or questionable statement. The word must have been widely used, for when it first appeared in a dictionary in 1848, bunkum was said to be a “very useful and expressive word, which is now as well understood as any in our language.” By the 20th-century, the abbreviated version “bunk,” meaning nonsense or silliness, began to appear in speech and in print. In 1916 Henry Ford was quoted as saying “History is more or less bunk.”

Asheville, North Carolina, in the “land of the sky,” is the seat of Buncombe County. The image shown here is from a tourist brochure published by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce in 1922 .


Suggestions for Further Reading

Archibald Henderson, “Man Who Gave Us ‘Bunkum’ Deserves More of Historians.” Durham Herald-Sun, April 13, 1941. In North Carolina Collection clipping file through 1975 : biography, pp. 729-730

John Russell Bartlett, A Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848.

January 1795: The University of North Carolina

This Month in North Carolina History

The University of North Carolina held its opening ceremony on January 15, 1795, and soon after became the first state university to enroll students.

Drawing of Old East by John Pettigrew

The winter of 1794-1795 had been rough, and by mid January the roads were a muddy mess. Governor Richard Dobbs Spaight made the difficult trip from Raleigh to Chapel Hill for the official opening and was met by members of the Board of Trustees and other government officials. When these dignitaries gathered to open the University on January 15th, 1795, it was a cold, windy, rainy day and the area looked more like a construction site than a college campus. Only the two-story East Building and the unpainted wooden house of the Presiding Professor had been completed. The rest of the campus was filled with tree stumps, recently dug clay, and piles of lumber to be used for additional buildings. The North Carolina Journal reported that “the buildings prepared for the reception and accommodation of students are in part finished, and that youth disposed to enter the University may come forward with the assurance of being received.”

With the campus ready, and the Governor and school officials gathered for the ceremony, all that was missing was students. Unfortunately, none showed up. It wasn’t until three weeks later that 18-year-old Hinton James arrived on campus from his home in Wilmington from which, as legend has it, he walked all the way to Chapel Hill. For two weeks James comprised the entire student body, but he soon had company. By the end of the first term, the new university had 41 students receiving instruction from two faculty members. When the first graduation was held in 1798, James was among seven students receiving degrees.

The North Carolina Constitution of 1776 authorized “one or more” state universities. The university was formally established by the North Carolina General Assembly in December 1789, and the first members of the Board of Trustees met later that month to begin raising funds and to select a site for the school. A small group of commissioners charged with finding a location viewed more than a dozen sites in Orange and Chatham counties before selecting a spot at what was then called New Hope Chapel Hill. The cornerstone for the first building, East Building (now “Old East”), was laid on October 12, 1793. The drawing of East Building by a UNC student in 1797, shown on this page, is the first known image of the University of North Carolina.


Suggestions for Further Reading:

Powell, William S. The First State University: A Pictorial History of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Snider, William D. Light on the Hill: A History of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Battle, Kemp Plummer. History of the University of North Carolina. Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1912.

December 1870: The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

This Month in North Carolina History

smallhatterasJust off of Cape Hatteras lies Diamond Shoals, a large area of turbulent waters and constantly shifting underwater sand dunes which can wreak havoc with passing ships. This and other treacherous passages caused so many shipwrecks that wary sailors began to call the waters off of North Carolina’s coast the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

The first lighthouse at Hatteras began operating in 1802 and was effective in helping some boats steer clear of dangerous waters, but sailors complained that it was neither tall enough nor bright enough to provide as much advance warning as they needed. Hatteras was the site of an important naval battle early in the Civil War. The island was occupied in the summer of 1861 by Federal troops, many of whom camped around the lighthouse, finding themselves forced to defend the beacon against a Confederate plan to blow it up. After the war, continued complaints about the effectiveness of the light, combined with natural deterioration of the structure, led the United States Congress to authorize funds for a new lighthouse in 1867. In December 1870, the new lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, destined to become one of North Carolina’s most enduring symbols, was lit for the first time.

The new lighthouse took over two years to build and cost $155,000, more than twice the cost originally allocated by Congress. The familiar black and white stripes were painted in 1873. The finished structure stood 208 feet high, making it the tallest lighthouse in the United States, a distinction that it still holds.

The new light shone for decades, helping ships steer clear of the dangerous passages, but it was these very waters that threatened the existence of the lighthouse. Beach erosion had become so severe that by 1936 waves reached the base of the lighthouse and, without any immediate solutions to stop the encroaching tide, the Lighthouse Service was forced to close the Hatteras lighthouse. For 14 years, it would remain dark.

In 1950 the lighthouse was restored, a new electric light was installed, and the Hatteras lighthouse began its second life. The next half-century saw a number of efforts to reinforce the shoreline – sand was pumped in to extend the beach, concrete bunkers were poured, and a large seawall was built around the base of the lighthouse – but none were able to keep the ocean away for long. Finally, in 1999, the entire lighthouse was lifted from its foundation and moved to a new location 1,600 feet from the sea. In the years since the move, the lighthouse has reopened to visitors, has withstood several severe storms and, most importantly, has continued to shine, warning passing ships that they were approaching the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

This detail from an 1897 map produced by the U.S. Light-House Board shows the range of the Hatteras light. The dotted lines mean that the light at Hatteras was a blinking white light, while the solid black line signifies a fixed white light, as with the Ocracoke lighthouse south of Hatteras.
This detail from an 1897 map produced by the U.S. Light-House Board shows the range of the Hatteras light. The dotted lines mean that the light at Hatteras was a blinking white light, while the solid black line signifies a fixed white light, as with the Ocracoke lighthouse south of Hatteras.

largemapkey


Suggestions for Further Reading
Carr, Dawson. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse: Sentinel of the Shoals. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Duffus, Kevin P. The Lost Light: The Mystery of the Missing Cape Hatteras Fresnel Lens. Raleigh: Looking Glass Productions, 2003.

Stick, David. North Carolina Lighthouses. Raleigh: North Carolina Office of Archives and History, 1999.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, National Park Service

Image Source
“Fifth L.H. District.” Map published in Annual Report of the Light-House Board to the Secretary of the Treasury for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1897. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1897. Detail.

November 1718: The Death of Blackbeard

This Month in North Carolina History

Drawing of BlackbeardThe 1710s have been called the “golden age of piracy.” Pirate ships roamed the Atlantic Ocean, preying upon busy commercial ports in the West Indies and along the coast of North America. One of the most notorious of the pirates, Edward Teach, better known as “Blackbeard,” was a frequent visitor to North Carolina and it was here, in November 1718, that he was captured and killed.

Edward Teach was from Bristol, England, a town on the Avon River in southwest England, which produced many pirates. Teach served on a privateer during Queen Anne’s War (1701-1714). Privateering was, in a sense, legalized piracy. The British government authorized private ships to attack and capture enemy merchant vessels, with the proceeds divided between the Queen and the crew of the privateer. When the war ended, Teach was faced with the prospect of losing his livelihood and the great potential for adventure and profit that it promised. Along with many others in the same position, he turned to piracy.

Teach served for several years on a pirate ship under another captain before, in 1717, he stole a ship for himself and formed a crew of his own. Teach and his crew, aboard the “Queen Anne’s Revenge,” captured a number of valuable cargoes off of the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas. In what would become one of his most famous acts, Teach sailed boldly into Charleston, South Carolina, captured several prominent citizens, and held them hostage until the city agreed to exchange them for costly medical supplies.

While he was terrorizing commercial ports along the coast of North America, Teach became known as “Blackbeard” and his reputation spread quickly. Blackbeard was widely feared for his violence and cruelty and cultivated a fierce appearance to intimidate his victims. This memorable description is from Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, published in London in 1726:

This Beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant Length; as to Breadth, it came up to his Eyes; he was accustomed to twist it with Ribbons, in small Tails, after the Manner of our Ramilies Wiggs, and turn them about his Ears: In Time of Action, he wore a sling over his Shoulders, with three Brace of Pistols, hanging in Holsters like Bandaliers; and stuck lighted Matches under his Hat, which appearing on each Side of his Face, his Eyes naturally looking fierce and wild, made him altogether such a Figure, that Imagination cannot form an Idea of a Fury, from Hell, to look more frightful.

Between adventures at sea, Blackbeard often returned to North Carolina. The shallow waters and complicated inlets of the Outer Banks provided a popular hiding place for pirates while they rested their crews and repaired their ships. Blackbeard favored Ocracoke Inlet and was rumored to have had a house in Ocracoke village. There is an inlet there today still known as “Teach’s Hole.” North Carolina was also a popular refuge for pirates because of its governor, Charles Eden, who was widely rumored to have ignored the illegal activities of the pirates in exchange for a share of the spoils. In the summer of 1718, Blackbeard lived in the coastal town of Bath, North Carolina, where he was known to have socialized with Governor Eden. After a few months on shore, Blackbeard had to return to piracy in order to maintain his lavish lifestyle. The people of North Carolina, tired of seeing their ships attacked and goods stolen, and frustrated at their own government’s failure to act, turned to the governor of Virginia for help.

Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia gathered a crew of British Naval officers, led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard, and sent them to Ocracoke where Blackbeard was known to be hiding. In a fierce fight beginning at dawn on November 22, 1718, the British sailors attacked and defeated Blackbeard and his crew. After suffering twenty-five wounds, including five from gunshots, Blackbeard finally died. Lieutenant Maynard, needing proof of Blackbeard’s death in order to claim the bounty offered by Governor Spotswood, beheaded the pirate and hung his severed head from the front of the ship as it sailed home.


Suggestions for Further Reading
Clowse, Converse D. “Teach, Edward.” In American National Biography, ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Lee, Robert E. Blackbeard the Pirate: A Reappraisal of His Life and Times. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, 1974.

Lee, Robert E. “Blackbeard the Pirate.” In Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, vol. 1, ed. William S. Powell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

Moore, David D. “A General History of Blackbeard the Pirate, the Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Adventure.” Tributaries, vol. 7, 1997, pp. 31-35. Available online, http://www.ah.dcr.state.nc.us/qar/rcorner/genhistory.htm

Rankin, Hugh F. The Golden Age of Piracy. Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg, 1969.

Rankin, Hugh F. The Pirates of Colonial North Carolina. Raleigh: State Department of Archives and History, 2008.