“Although there are many decisions to the effect that it is actionable per se to call a white person a Negro, not one can be found deciding whether it would be so to call a Negro a white person. [But] one event looks, in a measure, in this direction.
“The city of Asheville, North Carolina, in 1906, contracted with a printer to have a new city directory issued. The custom of the place was to distinguish white and Negro citizens by an asterisk placed before the names of all Negroes. After the directory had been distributed, it was found that asterisks had been placed before the names of two highly respected white citizens….
“The [Raleigh News & Observer] report says: ‘On the heels of this suit brought by [the white] Mr. Lancaster, it is said that [the black] Henry Pearson is considering bringing suit against the same people because an asterisk was not placed before his name. Henry, proprietor of the Royal Victoria, a Negro hotel, complains that he has been the object of unpleasant jests since publication of the directory, and likewise inquiries as to just ‘when he turned white.’ Pearson fears that if the report goes abroad that he is a white man it will damage his hotel…’
“This case is unique; whether it has been brought to court is as yet unknown….”
— From “Race Distinctions in American Law” by Gilbert Thomas Stephenson (1910)
If Henry Pearson did in fact take his grievance to court, I haven’t found evidence thereof.
“In mid-1955, the Supreme Court set about identifying its own relocation facility [in the event of nuclear war] and sent clerk Harold Willey to hunt for a spot. Willey surveyed several properties in North Carolina and reported back that ‘Because all large cities are considered to be prospective enemy targets, a hotel in a secluded small city, wherein approximately one hundred people could both live and work, with spaces available for a court room and clerical offices, seems a most appropriate facility for the Court.’ Making the case for the 141-room Grove Park Inn, Willey added that ‘A golf course adjoins the Inn and the new owners … plan to build a swimming pool.’
“A brief contract was inked on April 3, 1956… and the Cold War history sleuths at CONELRAD dug up Grove Park’s copy in a hotel filing cabinet in 2013. Lacking a sunset clause, it remains legally binding to this day. Let’s hope it will never be invoked. ”
— From “The U.S. Supreme Court’s secret Cold War relocation facility in the mountains of North Carolina” in Atlas Obscura
Remember Stephen Lee, the Confederate colonel and headmaster whose historical significance was found — on second thought — not worthy of the state highway marker that had stood for 65 years in Asheville?
Now, thanks to some persuasive research by his great-great-granddaughter, the marker review committee has decided — on third thought — to restore Lee to his former perch alongside Tunnel Road.
“After moving to Asheville in 1898, [patent medicine magnate E. W. Grove] decided that, if the city were ever to fulfill its potential as a pleasure resort, it would have to to shed its image as a health retreat….
“First, Grove quietly purchased a number of Asheville’s tuberculosis sanitariums and rooming houses that catered to invalids and tore them down. In his many real estate speculations he attached covenants to lots that he sold preventing construction of any structures for tuberculosis patients…..
“In 1913 he opened the Grove Park Inn, touted as ‘the finest resort hotel in the world…. not a sanitarium, a hospital or a health resort. It is a resting place for tired people who are not sick.’
“To ensure that guests were not at risk of encountering any pestilence, the hotel used only new dollar bills, washed all coins and boiled all silverware twice….”
— From “Tourism in the Mountain South: A Double-edged Sword” by C. Brenden Martin (2007)
“The North Carolina Collection at Pack Library [in Asheville] currently has over 3,650 postcards….
” ‘It’s unusual for a library of this size to have a postcard collection,’ says Terry Taylor, a member of The Friends of the North Carolina Room. ‘Some libraries have a few, but this library is making a concentrated effort to document the history of North Carolina. And it’s such a vivid history.’
“There’s a reason for local postcards’ prominence, Taylor notes: ‘That was a really popular thing from about 1905 to 1930. You could send your film to either a developer here in town or to Kodak and they would send you back prints that were on postcard stock, with a little stamp-marking on it.’ ”
— From “Greetings and salutations: A look at Asheville’s postcard history” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (March 10)
UNC’s North Carolina Collection is home to more than 15,000 postcards, about 8,000 of which were donated by the late Durwood Barber.
“Black bears and North Carolinians have tussled over space for centuries. While traveling through the western part of the state in 1774, naturalist William Bartram complained about them in his journal, writing ‘the bears are yet too numerous.’ American pioneers hunted them for food and for sport, often to excess — when trapper ‘Big Tom’ Wilson died in Asheville in 1908, his obituary bragged that he had killed 110 bears. All of this barely dented their numbers.
“Starting in the 1920s, though, development and deforestation began taking their toll. When a midcentury bout of chestnut blight decimated the bears’ food supply, they were already struggling. By 1970, there were only about 1,500 left in the state, and North Carolina conservationists began setting aside protected land to bring their numbers up, but things still looked grim.
“Then came the 1990s, and the housing boom. New developments were perfect safe spaces for bears, full of food and birdseed and free from hunters…. In 1993, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission got 33 calls about human-bear encounters. In 2013, they got 569.
“[Today] somewhere around 8,000 black bears range around western North Carolina, and many make Asheville part of their meandering….The scientists behind [N.C. State’s] Urban-Suburban Bear Study are interested in figuring out this new habitat’s ‘social carrying capacity’ — exactly how many of these new neighbors the human residents of the city are willing to tolerate….”
— From “The Civilized Black Bears of Asheville, North Carolina” by
On this day in 1930: After a month’s rest at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville fails to halt his mental and physical deterioration, William Howard Taft submits his resignation as chief justice of the United States.
Taft, who earlier served as president, is 73 years old, weighs 300 pounds and suffers from progressive heart disease. After sending his resignation ahead, he returns by train to Washington, where he will die barely a month later.
“[I am] pained at the implication in your letter that I was ashamed of North Carolina — only what is N.C. willing to do for me? I don’t think there is a place there now for anyone who cares for anything besides Rotary and Lions and Boosters Clubs, real-estate speculation, ‘heap much’ money, social fawning, good roads, new mills — what, in a word, they choose to call ‘Progress, Progress, Progress.’.…
“N.C. needs honest criticism — rather than the false, shallow ‘we-are-the-finest-state-and-greatest-people-in-the-country’ kind of thing. An artist who refuses to accept fair criticism of his work will never go far. What of a state?.…”
— From Thomas Wolfe’s letter to his mother, Julia, on April 21, 1924. Excerpted in “Thomas Wolfe v. the state of North Carolina, 1924” by Thomas Calder in Mountain Xpress (July 19, 2016).
Wolfe, 23, had just begun teaching at New York University. It would be another five years before publication of “Look Homeward, Angel.”
“Shayda Vance grew up not thinking much of her last name. She had never lived in Western North Carolina, and although she knew some of her family hailed from Weaverville, her bloodlines were a bit of a mystery.
“Like many of the 42 million African-Americans living in the United States, part of her lineage is a web of unknown trades and transactions that started on the shores of West Africa and ended in 1870, when more than 240 years after their arrival in the American South, slaves were listed by name in a U.S. Census for the first time.
“Now researchers in North Carolina are working to add to those records by amassing a statewide index of slave deeds, inspired in part by Buncombe County’s work in unearthing records of sale in Western North Carolina….”
— From “Buncombe records unearth slave data, expansion planned” by Beth Walton in the Asheville Citizen-Times (Oct. 14)
“On a trip through the North Carolina mountains in 1878, Virginia newspaper editor James Cowardin found himself surrounded by thousands of pigs. ‘Hogs were before us and behind us, and both to the right and to the left of us,’ Cowardin wrote. ‘There was whipping and shouting and twisting and turning’ as the swineherds yelled, ”Suey!” “Suey!” “Get out!” “Suey hogs!” “D—d devil take the swine!” ‘
“Cowardin too cursed the pigs at first, but once he settled into the rhythm of the road, he began to daydream about following his ‘grunting friends’ to their destination and enjoying a pig slaughter feast: ‘What luxury in spare ribs, backbone, and sausage we would have,’ he fantasized, ‘not to mention pigs’ tails broiled on hot rocks!’
“The flesh of Cowardin’s traveling companions, though, was destined for other stomachs. He had stumbled upon a seasonal movement of livestock that had been happening each winter for more than half a century. He was in the middle of a pig drive….
“The best estimates suggest that in the antebellum South, five times as many hogs were driven as all other animals combined. In 1847 one tollgate in North Carolina recorded 692 sheep, 898 cattle, 1,317 horses, and 51,753 hogs….”
— From “The Great Appalachian Hog Drives” b May 4, 2015)
When they’re not being stolen, these pig statues in downtown Asheville commemorate the 19th-century hog drives.