“As early as 1848 local leaders had advocated [according to Greensboro’s Whig newspaper] ‘a Monument erected to the memory of [Gen. Nathanael] Greene, and devoted to the perpetual Union of these States.’ Who could object to such a monument, ‘connected as it is with the South?’ ….
“Unlike the memorials at other Southern battlefields, that at Guilford Courthouse would ‘make us sacrifice our narrow, sectional prejudices and differences, which are worth nothing, for the preservation and continuance of… brotherly love, and national harmony…’
“Even with lifetime memberships of only one dollar, the Greene Monument Association raised only $600 and never constructed a monument before the Civil War rendered moot its attempt to preserve the union by erecting obelisks.”
.— From “Memories of War: Visiting Battlegrounds and Bonefields in the Early American Republic” by Thomas A. Chambers (2012)
On this day in 1958: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., not yet 30 years old but already famous for having led the Montgomery bus boycott, pays his first visit to Greensboro.
The local NAACP has invited King, but only black Bennett College will provide him a hall. He addresses two overflow crowds — morning and night — at Pfeiffer Chapel. “We are breaking loose from the Egypt of segregation and moving into the promised land of integration . . . .” he says. “There are giants in the way, but it can be done.”
Five years later he will return to Greensboro for a ceremony honoring the students who ignited the sit-in movement at the Woolworth’s lunch counter.
“About the time we crossed the white chalk line which divides Virginia from North Carolina, we became aware that some sort of dispute was taking place in the interior of the car….When we reached a town of some size we sought out the largest garage and demanded an inspection….
“[The mechanic] glanced in at the knickerbocker-clad Zelda, seated in nonchalant gravity in the front seat….
” ‘It’s a pity that a nice girl like you should be let to wear those clothes.’
“It was fifty years of provincialism speaking; it was the negative morality of the poor white — and yet it filled me with helpless and inarticulate rage…..
“We got ourselves eventually from the garage…but we could not erase it from our minds that, so long as Zelda wore her white knickerbockers, the surrounding yokelry regarded us with cold, priggish superiority, as ‘sports.’ We were in Carolina, and we had not conducted ourselves sartorially as the Carolinians….
“At twilight we came into Greensboro, which offered the O. Henry Hotel, an elaborate hostelry, at sight of which Zelda decided to slip on a skirt over her knickerbockers….”
— From “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a somewhat fictionalized account of a trip the Fitzgeralds took from Westport, Conn., to Montgomery, Ala., in 1920. Serialized in Motor magazine (March-May 1924)
On this day in 1908: Greensboro opens a week of centennial festivities, including a re-enactment of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a parade of Confederate veterans and the dedication of the 20,000-seat Hippodrome Auditorium. (The corrugated iron building, purchased from the Jamestown Exposition of 1907, is billed as second only to Madison Square Garden in seating capacity.)
The Charlotte Observer reports favorably on “the generosity shown by the Greensboro white people to the negroes in their midst. At the fair the darky has been given a show and in the auditorium a section. This broad-minded way of dealing with the negro caused favorable comment by visitors.”
On this day in 1954: Junius Scales, head of the Communist Party in the Carolinas, is arrested by the FBI and charged under the 1940 Smith Act with membership in an organization advocating violent overthrow of the government. Scales, a longtime resident of Chapel Hill, is a scion of a prominent Greensboro family — both his father and grandfather were state senators.
Scales will be convicted at his trial in Greensboro and sentenced to six years in prison. In 1961, after an unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Scales (who resigned from the Communist Party in 1957, soon after the Soviet invasion of Hungary) begins serving his sentence at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pa. On Christmas Eve 1962 President John Kennedy frees Scales, the only American to spend time in prison for being a Communist, by commuting his sentence to parole on his own recognizance.
“I’m back in New York after a six months’ stay in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. I was all played out — nerves, etc. I didn’t pick up down there as well as I should have done. There was too much scenery and fresh air. What I need is a steam-heated flat with no ventilation or exercise.”
— From a letter from William Sydney Porter to a friend in Chicago (April 15, 1910)
Returning to New York proved no cure for the Greensboro-born writer known as O. Henry. Less than two months later, at age 47, Porter was dead from cirrhosis of the liver, complications of diabetes and an enlarged heart. After funeral services in New York City, he was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville.
“I was surprised to find that cinema had not deceived me. An old denim factory really is a funhouse of red exit signs and retractable doors that yank open with the pull of the cord. Terminator 2 really nailed the vats and chains, the smoke, chemicals, and decay. They got the catwalks and metal grates, and most of all the lengthening shadows.”
— From “White Oak Denim, Greensboro” a memoir-cum-social history from Aaron Lake Smith, who spent seven months as a security guard at the country’s oldest continuously-working denim mill (N + 1 magazine, May 27, 2011)
Thanks to the inexplicable vagaries of fashion and a new push to “Buy American,” the Cone plant has made at least a temporary comeback since Smith’s tenure.
“What’s that out in the field over there? Donna and Paul Hirsch encountered the strange construction in the photo on a visit to family in Greensboro, N.C. Mrs. Hirsch first wondered if the device might be agricultural, given the numerous nearby farms. She also thought it might have a purpose on the other end of the technology spectrum: Perhaps it was related to the many new-economy businesses in the Greensboro area. Go on, have a look from above.
“As it happens, there are quite a few of these doodads scattered across the landscape. You may have seen one yourself, on a road trip through the middle of nowhere, perhaps — or in a well-developed area like Greensboro. But what is it?”
— From “What’s That Thing? Pastoral Doodad Edition” on Slate (June 7)
A work as ambitious as John Sutherland’s just-published “Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives” is bound to contain errors, but of course the one that caught my eye was the mislocated North Caroliniana:
“[William Sydney Porter] died, aged only 48, of alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver, in North Carolina where he had gone to recover his health.”
Actually, the Greensboro-born Porter — known to generations of readers as O. Henry — died in New York City (on June 5, 1910, which made him 47, not 48). He was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, near his wife’s hometown of Weaverville.
“In Greensboro, North Carolina, Nixon told his audience that he had a unique understanding of their difficult problem, meaning the race issue, because of the three years he had spent in their midst at Duke University Law School. He talked little about civil rights but spoke extensively about the Democrats’ threats to use federal authority to enforce civil rights. Then he connected that to state education: ‘But let us never forget that… one of the essences of freedom in this county is local and state control of the educational system….’
“That was enough to satisfy any white Southerner in 1960 that Nixon and the Republicans would keep their hands off segregation.”
— From “The First Modern Campaign: Kennedy, Nixon and the election of 1960” by Gary Donaldson (2007)