On this day in 1970: The pregnant wife and two young daughters of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald are murdered at their Fort Bragg apartment. MacDonald blames drug-crazed hippie intruders who chant, “Acid is groovy, kill the pigs,” but prosecutors will contend it was he who clubbed and stabbed his wife and 5-year-old in a fit of rage, then killed his 2-year-old to cover up his crime.
In 1979 a federal court in Raleigh convicts MacDonald on two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder. The case inspires a TV mini-series, “Fatal Vision,” and numerous books debating his guilt.
MacDonald remains in federal prison but continues to appeal his conviction.
“According to William Surface of the Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville, North Carolina, ‘It became a badge of honor for some Southerners to have an ancestor whose house was burned by Sherman’s troops.’
“Betty McCain, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, exemplified this mindset while testifying [in 1994] before the North Carolina Historical Commission in opposition to a proposed memorial to Sherman’s troops at Bentonville Battleground.
“She declared that her foremother fought off Sherman’s men with a broom three different times, when they tried to burn down her house near Wilmington. With no McCain ancestors to stop them, Sherman’s men did burn the warehouses in Wilmington, McCain claimed, as part of their swath of destruction across the state.
“Apparently McCain did not know that Confederates set the Wilmington warehouses ablaze before pulling out of the town, to deny materiel to the Union. Nor did she know that Sherman’s men never came within a hundred miles of Wilmington! Never mind — if it happened in North Carolina and was bad, Sherman did it !”
— From “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong” by James W. Loewen (2007)
On this day in 1956: A riot breaks out at Fats Domino’s show in Fayetteville, N.C. Police resort to tear gas to break up the unruly crowd. Fats jumps out a window to avoid the melee; he and two other band members are slightly injured.
“Maybe [Mick Kelly] would be a great inventor. She would invent little tiny radios the size of a green pea that people could carry around and stick in their ears.”
— From “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” (1940), Carson McCullers’ first novel, begun in Charlotte and completed in Fayetteville
Singer-playwright Suzanne Vega recalls this prescient line in an interview about “Carson McCullers Talks About Love,” opening Thursday Off-Broadway.
McCullers lived in North Carolina during the late 1930s while her husband, Reeves, was working as a credit investigator. During her stay in Fayetteville she also wrote “Reflections in a Golden Eye.”
“Their worldly possessions jammed into the back of his Volkswagen, Colin [Powell] and his pregnant wife were on their way to Fort Bragg. [In 1962] there was no on-base married housing for temporary, Vietnam-bound trainees; they planned to rent a furnished house or apartment in Fayetteville….
“After a frustrating day of house hunting, the Powells concluded that there were no middle-class rental accommodations available for blacks in Fayetteville. All Army posts were well integrated by the mid-1950s, but military desegregation meant nothing when black soldiers ventured outside the gates, particularly in the South. At dinner that night at the home of a friend… Colin’s anger rose as he related their experience with local real estate agents.
” ‘You talk to people on the phone,’ and everything’s fine, he said. ‘Then you walk in and they see you’re black, and immediately they’ve got a section of town they’re going to take you to.’ Among the several offerings had been an empty shack in the middle of an overgrown field that had been turned into a trash dump.”
— From “Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell” by Karen DeYoung (2006)
The Powells ended up spending the next six weeks in a children’s room (with bunk beds) at their friend’s Army duplex.
Unsettling news indeed: The “well-being” of North Carolinians reportedly ranks 36th in the nation. Gallup’s composite index weighs 20 factors, such as stress, obesity, job satisfaction, nighttime safety, happiness…. Happiness? Tar Heels come up short in happiness?
Why, it hasn’t been that long ago — the ’70s, actually — that John Shelton Reed was explaining why no less than 90 percent of North Carolinians considered their state “the best, all things considered.” In sum: nice neighbors, nice weather. (Among the dozen other states studied, Massachusetts came in last at 40 percent.)
Mt. Airy native Donna Fargo even claimed the title of “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
So what happened? In the intervening four decades, have newcomers from Massachusetts been stealthily U-Hauling their gloom and naysaying past the interstate welcome centers? Or are 21st century North Carolinians simply unhappy, for whatever reason, in a state they may still consider the best?
Gallup asked, “Did you experience feelings of happiness during a lot of the day yesterday?” For reasons I’m sure make sense in the opinion-harvesting community, the results are presented by congressional district. Thus, North Carolina’s happiest districts are Four (Durham, Chapel Hill) and Nine (Charlotte region minus Charlotte), both at 90 percent “yes.” Its unhappiest district: Seven (Wilmington, part of Fayetteville) at 84 percent.
Finally, this caught my eye: In response to “Are you satisfied with the city or area where you live?” the 94 percent yes in North Carolina’s District Four was topped only by the 95 percent yes in California’s District 48.
Curse you, Laguna Beach.
— What was his great-great-great grandfather thinking?
— A play about Harriet Jacobs, a film about Carl Sandburg.
— Death noted: Clyde King, whose long baseball career began with an overnight transformation from Tar Heel to Brooklyn Dodger.
— Roadside marker in Fayetteville is state’s first to recognize a Muslim.
— Lost Colony researcher‘s “two drops of Croatoan blood… have boiled over.”
Thanks to Michael Hill for this list of state highway historical markers approved by the advisory committee May 25:
— Pea Island Lifesavers. Only U.S. Lifesaving Station manned by black crew. Led by Richard Etheridge, 1879-1899.
— George H. White, 1852-1918. Represented the state’s “Black Second” district, U.S. House, 1897-1901. Last black Southerner in Congress for 72 years. Lived two blocks east. [Tarboro]
— Anna J. Cooper, 1858-1964. Educator, orator & early black feminist. Graduate, St. Augustine’s. Author, A Voice from the South (1892). Grave 2 1/2 blks. S. [Raleigh]
— Fairgrounds Speedway. After 1928 popularized Indy-style car racing. Site hosted the last NASCAR race on dirt track, 1970. Half-mile oval was 250 yds. SW. [Raleigh]
— Lewis Leary, 1835-1859. Free black abolitionist & conspirator in 1859 with John Brown in attack on U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Killed in assault. Lived in this vicinity. [Fayetteville]
— Omar Ibn Said, ca. 1770-1863. Muslim slave & scholar. African-born, he penned autobiography in Arabic in 1831. While living in Bladen Co., worshipped with local Presbyterians. [Fayetteville]
— Nimrod Jarrett Smith, 1837-1893. Principal Chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee, 1880-1891. Led incorporation of Band & centralization of Tribal government on his property, here. [Cherokee]
Expected by week’s end: Details on each marker.