Where’s Hugh Bennett? Climate debate needs him!

“It’s one thing to persuade hipsters in Portland, Ore., or Brooklyn to grow organic — hey, how cool is an artisan radish — in their rooftop gardens. It’s a much tougher push to get Big Ag, made up mostly of stubborn older men, to change its ways.

“But imagine if a farmer led the cause against climate change. Franklin Roosevelt chose Hugh Bennett, a son of the North Carolina soil, to rally Americans against the abusive farming practices that led to the Dust Bowl. Big Hugh was blunt, smart and convincing. ‘Of all the countries in the world, we Americans have been the greatest destroyers of land of any race of people,’ he said, without apology.

— From “Hicks Nix Climate Fix” by Timothy Egan in the New York Times (March 7) 

For a little more background on the too-seldom-remembered Bennett (UNC, Class of 1903), click here.

For a lot more, click here.


Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, 1962

UPDATED, 2/27: As Jack Hilliard points out in a comment below, the page I first posted didn’t include the whole block. I added the previous page, which also includes at least one business still operating in its 1962 location.

One of the favorite pastimes of UNC alums returning to campus is to lament how much has changed, especially on Franklin Street, the University’s “Main Street,” home to many restaurants and bars long frequented by UNC undergraduates.

The North Carolina City Directories collection on DigitalNC now includes four directories from Chapel Hill, from the years 1957, 1959, 1961, and 1962. The directories have a street directory section, enabling readers to browse residents or businesses by location. Here are the pages from the 1962 Chapel Hill directory showing the main block of Franklin Street:

Hill's Chapel Hill (Orange County, N.C.) City Directory, includi

Hill's Chapel Hill (Orange County, N.C.) City Directory, includi

So how much has changed since then? Quite a lot. At first glance I can see only one business that’s still operating in its current location (not counting churches). Can anyone else find it? Are there any others that I missed?

The Tar Heel celebrates its 120th birthday

The UNC-Chapel Hill student newspaper printed its first issue on February 23, 1893. The Tar Heel‘s editors explained that the paper, issued every Thursday morning, would include “a summary of all occurrences in the University and village of Chapel Hill.” The paper vowed to cover UNC sports, “all society news, personals and every subject of interest to both the students and citizens of the village.” The Tar Heel was published by the University Athletic Association. Charles Baskerville, a Mississippi native and star student at UNC, served as both head of the Athletic Association and editor-in-chief of the paper. The Tar Heel was available by subscription, charging $1.50 per session.

Baskerville and his five sub-editors seemed to realize the weightiness of their endeavor, writing:

This new venture is necessarily entered upon by the present board with no little trepidation, nevertheless with a determination, to make a success which can only be done through the indulgence and assistance of our faculty and fellow-students. Therefore we invite honest criticism and any aid in the advancement of this new project will be thoroughly appreciated.

Indeed, many a fellow student has contributed to the success and longevity of this noted form of Tar Heel Ink. Happy birthday and many thanks to each and every one of them.

Artifact of the Month: A piece of 1957 UNC basketball history

Zealous, maniacal, obsessed, rabid. There’s a reason why writers describing Tar Heel fans proceed directly to the extreme corners of the English language. The UNC men’s basketball team has earned every bit of its fans’ devotion, though, with a storied history of dramatic wins.

The team has enjoyed no prouder moment than its 1957 season, known fondly as McGuire’s Miracle (a reference to Coach Frank McGuire). That year the Tar Heels completed a perfect season, culminating in its first NCAA national championship.

Our February Artifact of the Month celebrates that exhilarating season:

Woollen Gymnasium floor section

This section of maple floor was salvaged from Woollen Gymnasium, the home court of the Tar Heel team until 1965. Affixed to this section of the historic floor are two metal plates, one featuring a photo of the 1957 championship team with Coach McGuire, and one bearing the signatures of the starting players: Pete Brennan, Bob Cunningham, Tommy Kearns, Lennie Rosenbluth, and Joe Quigg.

Those stellar players, who practiced and played on the old Woollen Gymnasium floor, attended the 2004 grand opening of the newly renovated Woollen, where these floor sections were offered as a fundraiser.

Fortunately, the Tar Heels’ winning mojo seems to live in the team itself, and not in that old Woollen floor: The UNC men’s basketball team has gone on to rack up four more NCAA championships after that first miraculous season, trailing only two other Division I teams in number of titles won. And any fan will tell you they’re not done counting.

UNC students, circa 1800, bridled at authority

“…When college students, like those at the University of North Carolina in 1796, could debate the issue of whether ‘the Faculty had too much authority,’ then serious trouble could not be far away….

“Between 1798 and 1808, American colleges were racked by mounting incidents of student defiance and outright rebellion — on a scale never seen before or since in American history….

“In 1799 , University of North Carolina students beat the president, stoned two professors and threatened others with injury.

“Finally, college authorities tightened up their codes of discipline. But repression only provoked more rebellions. In 1805, 45 students, a majority of the total enrollment, withdrew from the University of North Carolina in protest….”

– From “Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815” by Gordon S. Wood (2009)


Louisianans at UNC vowed to protect slavery

“As thousands of militiamen stared across Charleston Harbor at the scanty U.S. Army force occupying Fort Sumter, communities everywhere gathered to discuss the crisis….

“At a meeting of Louisiana students attending the University of North Carolina, 19-year-old Thomas Davidson recorded the proceedings. The Louisianans accused ‘fanatics of the North’ of robbing ‘the South of her most cherished liberties,’ and pledged their lives to the protection of slavery, ‘that Institution at once our pride and the the source of all our wealth and prosperity.’ ”

— From “What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery and the Civil War” by Chandra Manning (2007)


Celebrating Hanukkah among Tar Heel Christians

Hannukah, the Jewish festival of lights, offered pale competition for Christmas—puny candles against a dazzling tree, ‘Rock of Ages’ against the tyranny of carols and decorations that took over the stores, the radio, the schools, and the imagination of all my friends. Parents billed Hannukah as ‘better than Christmas,’ an unintentional error that placed a minor Jewish celebration beside Christianity on parade, like comparing sandlot baseball to the World Series. Hanukkah simply could never substitute—for one thing, it lasted eight days, and was almost always out of sync with Christmas, so you had to explain to your friends that you didn’t sneak and open your Christmas presents early, but that your holiday was different; and that could lead to a ‘You mean you don’t celebrate Christmas? Why not?’ So I usually played with my toys in secret until Christmas day. I would always save the gifts from my friends until Christmas morning because it didn’t seem right to open gentile gifts on a Jewish holiday and, besides, if I waited I’d have a real surprise to talk about in the afternoon when they came over to show off their stuff, rather than pretending that I had ripped open eight-day old toys that very morning….It didn’t make up for much when little Billy White said,’Gee, eight days of presents…I wish I was Jewish.’

-from Eli Evans’s The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South. Evans was born and raised in Durham, the son of E.J. “Mutt” Evans, the mayor of Durham from 1950-1962.The younger Evans graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1958 and Yale Law School in 1963. He worked as a speech writer on the staff of President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1964-1965. Evans served as a senior program officer for the Carnegie Corporation of New York from 1967-1977. In 1977 he joined the Charles H. Revson Foundation as president and remained in that position until his retirement in 2003. Evans’s personal papers are held by the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library.

Was Helms’ oft-cited slap at UNC ‘a fabrication’?

“Did Jesse Helms ever call UNC the ‘University of Negroes and Communists’?

“That line has been attributed to the late longtime U.S. senator for many years by many sources. John Dodd, president of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, says it is ‘a fabrication.’ ”

— From “Jesse Helms and the ‘University of Negroes and Communists’ “ by Taylor Batten in today’s Charlotte Observer


What Tar Heel Beats Connote North Carolina?

Welcome to Carolina screenshot
Here’s a question for you. What song would best serve as the state’s theme song?

That question came to mind this morning as I sampled the works produced by the Beat Making Lab at UNC-Chapel Hill (You can read about one of the Beat Making Lab’s projects in The News and Observer from December 2). A UNC student who uses the name Bunny Beatz.z.z. produced a short piece called “Welcome to Carolina.” With apologies to James Taylor fans (note: I realize that hip-hop is a far cry from the lilting vocals and skillful guitar licks of your idol), the song, particularly the words repeated by the female vocalist, remind me of “Carolina on My Mind.” And in my mind Taylor’s hit is emblematic of the Tar Heel state. Perhaps for a generation (or two or three) of North Carolinians, “Carolina On My Mind” serves as their state theme song. Admittedly UNC haters may think otherwise, since the song was long ago appropriated by boosters of the university in Chapel Hill.

So, share your thoughts. What songs connote North Carolina to you? Is it a Doc Watson tune? A beach music number by Durham-born Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters? Or the Piedmont blues of Blind Boy Fuller? Even Clay Aiken and Scotty McCreery are permissible. Just tell us your opinion.

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.