Black exhibits stifled by 1890s world’s fairs

“Proponents argued that an Afro-American exhibit would encourage black participation in the [Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition]. Blacks laid plans to rely on the Southern Exposition in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1891 as a gathering point for black exhibits to be sent to the world’s fair two years later. But the idea of a separate exhibit aroused opposition as de facto surrender to segregation.

“The issue became moot when fair directors ruled against racially separate exhibits. Instead, they encouraged blacks to participate in existing state displays [as] approved by all-white committees of the various states. Few black exhibits made their way through the screening process…..

“In North Carolina resistance to the planned black exhibit from the state [in the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895] was so strong that the state’s commissioners to the fair had to inform interested fairgoers that a better display of  achievements by North Carolina blacks could be found at the state’s annual ‘colored fair.’ ”

— From “All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916” by Robert W. Rydell (1984)

John Brown without tears (to say the least)

“Fanaticism in the North is rampant….On yesterday, the godly city of Boston, built up and sustained by the products of negro slave labor, went into mourning, fasting and prayer over the condign punishment of a negro stealer, murderer and traitor….

“In all the Noo England towns and villages, we may expect to hear that mock funerals have been celebrated, and all kinds of nonsensically lugubrious displays made. (It is a pity that they haven’t a witch or two to drown or burn, by way of variety.)….

“The Yankees have no objection to mingling money making with their grief, and they will, unless Brown’s gallows is known to have been burned, set to work and make [from it] all kinds of jimcracks and notions… and sell them. Let the rope which choked him, too, be burned or we shall see vast quantities of breast pips, lockets and bracelets… for sale. Barnum is already in the market for Old Brown’s clothes….”

— From an editorial in the Raleigh Register, December 3, 1859

Black preachers, white congregants, circa 1800

“Henry Evans, a free man and shoemaker by trade, was licensed as a local preacher by the Methodists toward the end of the 18th century. Evans was responsible for ‘the planting of Methodism’ in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Originally preaching to black people only, he attracted the attention of some prominent whites, and ironically ‘the white portion of [his] congregation increased till the negroes were crowded out of their seats.’ Evans was displaced by a white minister but continued as an assistant in the church he founded until his death in 1810.

“John Chavis, another free black, was appointed by the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1801 to work in Virginia and North Carolina ‘as a missionary among people of his own color’…. Chavis did not confine his ministry to Negroes. In 1808 he opened a school in Raleigh, North Carolina, for the instruction of white children by day and black children at night. In 1832 Chavis was barred from preaching by a North Carolina law which forbade slaves and free Negroes to exhort or preach in public.”

— From “Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South” by Albert J. Raboteau (2004)

Daniels: ‘Radio makes surprises impossible’

“Nobody now fears that a Japanese fleet could deal an unexpected blow to our Pacific possessions…. Radio makes surprises impossible.”

— Josephus Daniels, publisher and former Navy secretary, dedicating station WLAC at North Carolina State College, Oct. 16, 1922.

Nina Simone: A day of contrasts in 1961

“After [Nina Simone’s 1961 concert at Memorial Hall, UNC Chapel Hill student] Frank Craighill arranged for dinner at one of the area’s newest steak houses, the Angus Barn. Craighill [president of the social club that sponsored the concert] had picked the restaurant with care… and when Nina and the trio walked in as guests of the university, a big round table was already set and waiting for them. It was easily one of the most elegant meals any of them had eaten on the road….

“[But] an encounter later at the train station in Raleigh left no doubt they were in the South. As they waited for the train to New York, a white woman claimed she had lost her purse. The station manager found the purse in the men’s restroom. One of the waiting passengers asserted that [drummer Bobby Hamilton] had been the last person to use it, and in a flash police… zeroed in, all but accusing him of theft. But Nina leapt to his defense. ‘She just went crazy,’ [bassist Chris White] remembered. ‘She read them the riot act…. She was just as black as she could be with these guys and they left us alone.’ ”

— From “Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone” by Nadine Cohodas (2010)

A footnote: Frank Craighill went on to become a pioneer in the field of sports marketing.

… But they know what they like: Timberlake!

On this day in 1979: A Bob Timberlake exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh brings protests that he is an illustrator and a promoter rather than an artist. One reviewer calls his work “a contrived world of plastic nostalgia.” Critics also contend Timberlake’s limited-edition prints fail to satisfy professional criteria.

The show draws huge crowds, however, and Timberlake’s standing as the state’s most popular artist is unshaken.

Rubber recycling rejected in Raleigh

On this day in 1942: Alice Broughton, wife of Gov. J. Melville Broughton, orders a rubber mat ripped off the servants’ staircase in the Executive Mansion to donate to the war effort.

Accompanied by a reporter and photographer from the Raleigh Times, she then delivers the 58-pound mat to a service station for recycling. “Either the attendants never heard of the drive,” the Times reports, “or they didn’t care whether the nation got the rubber as a means of whipping the Axis. . . .

“So the rubber was placed back in the box and carted across the street. There the fellows seemed to know what it was all about, and gladly accepted the rubber.

“Perhaps it is because of stations like the first that more rubber has not been turned in.”

Seven sites win roadside recognition

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.

‘You look just like anybody else’ (!)

“The year in Raleigh [1930, playing in the Class C Piedmont League] was an experience. At first I didn’t fit in.  I encountered more curiosity than hostility. My teammates were a bunch of farm boys, and I was a big, ungainly kid from the city. One day I was standing on the field when I became aware of a teammate walking slowly around me, staring.

” ‘I’ve never seen a Jew before,’ he said. ‘I’m just looking…. I don’t understand it. You look just like  anybody else.’

” ‘Thanks,’ I said.”

— From “Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life” (1989)

The Bronx-born Greenberg went on to become the first Jewish superstar. For most of his career he played first base for the Detroit Tigers. In 1938 he hit 58 home runs,  threatening Babe Ruth’s record.

I’ll go with Greenberg’s autobiography, but for the record I’ve also seen this anecdote placed in Beaumont, Texas, in the 1932 season.


The ill-starred bird call of John Sprunt Hill

“Grey-haired John Sprunt Hill rose from his desk in the Senate chamber at Raleigh, hunched his venerable shoulders and sang out loud & clear: ‘Chickadee, chickadee, chickadee-dee-dee.’

“No sudden madness had gripped the distinguished Senator…. North Carolina was one of only five States without an official bird. Winner of a Statewide newspaper poll had been the Carolina chickadee, and the State Federation of Women’s Clubs asked the Legislature to elect the chickadee.

“Senator George McNeill of Fayetteville trooped over to the State museum, brought back a stuffed chickadee to enlighten his urban colleagues. Someone told Salisbury’s veteran Representative Walter Pete Murphy that the chickadee eats insects. ‘For God’s sake,’ cried he, ‘don’t turn the chickadee loose on this House.’

“When legislative wit had run its course both houses conferred official status upon the chickadee. Then it was the State’s turn to have fun. The chickadee is a member of the titmouse family. Editors remembered ‘Little Tommy Tittlemouse’ who ‘lived in a little house,’ began to refer to the ‘Tomtit Legislature.’ Clubs and societies stirred uneasily at the prospect of North Carolina’s becoming known as the ‘tomtit State.’

“The legislators withstood the waggish barrage for ten days. Then another bill was quietly introduced. With no voice raised in opposition, North Carolina’s Senate & House last week repealed the chickadee.”

— Time magazine, May 29, 1933

Hill was more successful, of course, in his munificent advocacy of the North Carolina Collection.