The North Carolina Emergency Bank Holiday of 1933

Newspaper headline "All Banks Closed in State and Nation"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Shuttle vet and UNC-CH alum dies

Challenger postcard with cancellations stamps noting the cards trip in space.
From North Carolina Collection Gallery. Gift of William and Virginia Powell.

UNC-CH alumnus and former NASA astronaut William “Bill” Thornton, who used his own inventions to measure and combat the ill-effects of microgravity while on board two Space Shuttle missions, has died at the age of 91. 

Born in Faison, N.C., Thornton received two degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill–a B.S.from in physics in 1951 and an MD in 1963–before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force.  He was selected by NASA to be part of its second group of scientist-astronauts known as the XS-11 class in 1967. NASA told the group that they would likely wait for some time before heading into space. 

Portrait of William Thornton from 1951 UNC-Chapel Hill yearbook
Portrait of William Thornton from 1951 UNC Yackety Yack.

Sixteen years passed before Thornton launched on the first of his two Space Shuttle flights as a mission specialist aboard the Challenger on August 30, 1983.  Thornton was added to the crew primarily to observe their susceptibility to space adaptation sickness (SAS), a condition that affects the vestibular system as the human body adapts to microgravity.  Thornton’s work on the 1983 flight led him to invent a treadmill for use aboard the Space Shuttle.  The 1983, six-day STS-8 mission also deployed a weather and communication satellite and carried more than 260,000 stamped envelopes.   

On April 29, 1985, Thornton again launched aboard the Challenger for his second space flight.  The seven-member crew worked in two teams around the clock on more than a dozen experiments in the Spacelab module.  They conducted experiments using the first laboratory animals in space and exercised on the space shuttle treadmill invented by Thornton.     

Thornton served 27 years with the space agency before retiring in 1994. During the course of his two expeditions, he logged 13 days, one hour and sixteen minutes in space.  For his service to the nation’s space program, Thornton received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and two NASA Space Flight Medals. 

VP Sanford? How serious was JFK?

“[Robert] Caro’s best but most controversial piece of evidence [that Lyndon Johnson would be replaced on the 1964 ticket] is the 1968 book by JFK’s former secretary, Evelyn Lincoln.

“Lincoln wrote that in mid-November of 1963 JFK said at her desk that ‘there might be a change in the ticket.’

“A week later, JFK told Lincoln that he was thinking about North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford, she recalled, adding that the president told her: ‘But it will not be Lyndon’…

Tom Lambeth, a Sanford gubernatorial aide,  recalled last week that he heard the chatter. He even said he can think back to the day he picked up another Sanford aide, Skipper Bowles (the father of Erskine) at the airport after Bowles had been to the White House.

“ ‘Bowles said something about the idea that Terry might be the VP,’ Lambeth recalls.

“But Lambeth, now 77, said neither Sanford nor Sanford’s staff thought it would come to fruition….”

— From “Caro revives Kennedy-Johnson feud” by Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris at Politico (May 13, 2012)

‘Destroyed by the white citizens of Wilmington….’

The attention rightly heaped upon David Zucchino’s “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup Of 1898 And The Rise Of White Supremacy” reminded me of this Miscellany post from seven years ago. (Sorry the eBay image of the printing-press fragment being auctioned hasn’t survived.)

I’ve seen a lot of remarkable North Caroliniana on eBay but nothing as breathtaking as this supposed artifact, inscribed “destroyed by the white citizens of Wilmington,” offered by a dealer in Oreland, Pa.

Here’s a reaction from historian Tim Tyson, who has written extensively about the black-owned Daily Record’s role in the nation’s only coup d’etat: “If it is the real thing, I sure would like to have it myself… I don’t know what it might be ‘worth,’ but I think it belongs well south of Pennsylvania!”

Anyone care to speculate on the initials, which seem to be “J.H.T.J.”?

 

Check out what’s new in the North Carolina Collection

Several new titles were just added to New in the North Carolina Collection. To see the full list simply click on the link in the entry or click on the New in the North Carolina Collection tab at the top of the page. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog, and all titles are available for use in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

Check out what’s new in the North Carolina Collection

Several new titles were just added to New in the North Carolina Collection. To see the full list simply click on the link in the entry or click on the New in the North Carolina Collection tab at the top of the page. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog, and all titles are available for use in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

Check out what’s new in the North Carolina Collection

Several new titles were just added to New in the North Carolina Collection. To see the full list simply click on the link in the entry or click on the New in the North Carolina Collection tab at the top of the page. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog, and all titles are available for use in the Wilson Special Collections Library.

James City, North Carolina

James City, North Carolina is an unincorporated town near New Bern in Craven County. It has a tumultuous but little-known history that can be seen through historic newspapers on Chronicling America.

The history of James City began in 1862, when New Bern was occupied by Union troops in the Civil War. Union officials established a settlement across the Trent River for former slaves who had nowhere else to go. This settlement was named James City after Reverend Horace James, an Army chaplain who was the town’s leader in its earliest years. He later became an agent for the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees, and Abandoned Lands. The Union confiscated the land that James City was built on from its former owners.

The location of James City is marked on this map as “Yankees”. Photo from North Carolina Maps (https://web.lib.unc.edu/nc-maps/).

The city thrived for a few years, and became a haven for Black men and women in the years after the Civil War. Homes, farms, businesses, and churches were built and a local government was established. However, the residents of James City soon started facing setbacks. In the late 1860s, bad weather resulted in poor harvests. At the same time, the Freedmen’s Bureau began scaling back its financial support of the town. Lastly, in 1867, the federal government returned the land that James City was built on to the family of its former owner. Land that the town residents owned themselves was now owned by James Bryan.

“A James City Doorway.” Photo from the Digital North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives (https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/archivalhome/collection/dig_nccpa)

These setbacks were disastrous for many of the town’s residents. The population shrunk from 3,000 residents to only 1,100 by the 1880s as people left due to the worsening economic conditions. Those who didn’t leave were forced to either pay rent to Bryan or work as sharecroppers.

The situation escalated in the 1890s, when Bryan began raising rents with the purpose of evicting residents who were unable to pay. Many residents objected, arguing that the land had been given to them originally, and they shouldn’t have to pay rent. Some residents argued that they should be compensated for the improvements they had made to the land, such as the farms and homes they had built. The residents even raised $2,000 to buy the land from Bryan. Each of these efforts to save the town failed. In 1891, the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that the land definitively belonged to Bryan.

After this ruling, tensions in James City were running high. The town’s residents were furious and continued to refuse to pay rent. Newspapers reported on the potential for violence over this matter. The Craven County sheriff attempted to evict the residents but was unsuccessful. According to an article in the State Chronicle, the town residents peacefully resisted him by locking their doors, gathering on the streets, and refusing to answer the sheriff’s questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In April 1893, the First Regiment of the State Guard was ordered to James City to restore order and enforce the law—in short, to force the residents to pay the rent that Bryan demanded. This action was ordered by Governor Elias Carr.

Once the Carr and the state military got involved, the townspeople agreed to Bryan’s terms: rent ranging from 50 cents to $1 for three years. This agreement was reached without violence or significant bloodshed (one officer was killed when he fell off his horse). The residents that were unable to pay were forced to move. In the end, only 700 James City residents were able to remain in their homes.

Newspaper coverage of this event was extensive. Much of the news was informed by racist stereotypes and assumptions about the legality of the Black residents’ claims. Bryan’s demands were characterized as reasonable by the newspapers of the day. In contrast, the Black residents were portrayed as violent lawbreakers, or else as gullible and ignorant. This story is an interesting illustration of the racial dynamics of the Reconstruction era.

 

View full newspaper pages on Chronicling America:

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92072978/1893-04-25/ed-1/seq-1/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068076/1891-05-30/ed-1/seq-1/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn92072978/1893-04-20/ed-1/seq-1/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068245/1893-04-27/ed-1/seq-2/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068305/1893-04-24/ed-1/seq-2/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068305/1893-04-27/ed-1/seq-1/

 

Other resources:

Karin Lorene Zipf, NCPedia: https://www.ncpedia.org/james-city

Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project: https://northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/james-city/

The History and Construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a popular tourist destination in western North Carolina and Virginia. This scenic road links Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it is the most visited attraction in the National Park System most years. Its history can be traced through North Carolina newspapers on Chronicling America.

Construction on the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to end the Great Depression.

In 1936, the project was officially named the Blue Ridge Parkway and placed under the authority of the National Parks Service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Construction was funded by the federal government. Robert L. Doughton, chairman of the House ways and means committee, fought for this funding—the road passed through his district, and was only 3 miles away from his home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work on the Blue Ridge Parkway continued until 1943 when the US entered World War II. At that time, 170 miles of the road had been completed, and work had started on another 330 miles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some sections of the road remained open while others were under construction, but even those sections were not as developed as they are today.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was not officially completed until 1987. The last section to be completed was the Lynn Cove Viaduct, which was a bridge that was carefully constructed to protect the habitat around Grandfather Mountain. Now, the Parkway spans a total of 469 miles as the result of 52 years of construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View full newspaper pages on Chronicling America:

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86063811/1936-02-06/ed-1/seq-4/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068099/1937-05-20/ed-1/seq-4/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn78002169/1945-12-23/ed-1/seq-20/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn91068401/1940-05-01/ed-1/seq-2/

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn86063811/1935-04-17/ed-2/seq-8/

Check out what’s new in the North Carolina Collection

Several new titles were just added to New in the North Carolina Collection. To see the full list simply click on the link in the entry or click on the New in the North Carolina Collection tab at the top of the page. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog, and all titles are available for use in the Wilson Special Collections Library.