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.

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.