New in the collection: Buck Leonard 90th birthday poster

Poster with photograph of Buck Leonard that reads "Buck Leonard 90th Birthday Celebration"

“Back when he was a boy in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Leonard would watch white teams play through a hole in the fence….

“There was no high school in Rocky Mount for blacks, so young Leonard shined shoes, until, like his father, he could become a railroad man. Only when he lost his job in the Depression did he turn to baseball to try to make a living. Soon he was playing for the famous Negro League champions, the Homestead Grays of Pittsburgh…”

— From “A Long Toss Back to the Heyday of Negro League Baseball” by Frank Deford in Smithsonian magazine (November 2013)
Leonard died less than three months after seeing his birthday celebrated by his hometown. Still around, however: Buck Leonard Boulevard, Buck Leonard Park, a Buck Leonard exhibit at the Imperial Centre and the Buck Leonard Association for Sports & Human Enrichment.

Biblical revisions spurned by flaming conservative

On this day in 1952: “A preacher in Rocky Mount, N.C., announced he would burn a copy of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible to protest the substitution of ‘young woman’ for ‘virgin’ and other changes from the King James version. He also charged that the National Council of Churches of Christ was deriving an ‘unmoral profit’ from royalties on the book. ‘I think their price is a little steep anyhow,’ he added.”

— From “Great moments in bookburning history” by at Sophrosyne (Sept. 10, 2010)


New in the collection: Oxford tobacco license plate


As early as 1913, North Carolina municipalities were empowered to collect local taxes by issuing license plates. The most recent I’ve seen: Blowing Rock 2010.

Most only named the town, but some took the opportunity to self-promote. Take that, Wilson and Tarboro and Rocky Mount!


Death noted: Rocky Mount native Earle Hyman

“I was born in Rocky Mount, N.C., where my maternal grandmother is from. My mother took my younger brother and two younger sisters and me and relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y., when I was around 6 years old for a better education. North Carolina had beautiful, natural surroundings. I would go back every summer….

“My friends and I would pay our 10 cents and go upstairs to the ‘colored section’ of the movie theater, the peanut gallery. I was there anytime I could get 10 cents. I was fascinated by the movies: Lena Horne, Bette Davis, ‘Tarzan,’ ‘King Kong’ — I loved it all. I internalized how these performers could do what they could do. I wanted to imitate them. ”

— From “What Ever Happened to Earle Hyman?” by Deanna Martin-Osuagwu in Jet (April 3, 2014)

“There was no library for Blacks when he left, but upon returning one summer, he found [Rocky Mount] had built a community center with a library for African Americans. ‘I asked the librarian, “What’s the biggest book you have?” and she said, “Well, I guess that would have to be the complete works of William Shakespeare.” And from there I was hooked.’ ”

— From “Earle Hyman: Longevity Through A Lifetime Of Learning”  by Carter Higgins at (


Despite his long-running, Emmy-nominated tour as Grandpa Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” Hyman was better known in Norway for his  performances in Ibsen plays. He died last week at age 91.


Tobacco warehouse overflowed with Count Basie’s fans

“In June [1948] we went down to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, for the annual June German Dance at the Tobacco Planters’ Warehouse, and according the newspaper reports we played two sessions that added up to over 24,000 people. The first session was from 10 to 1, and the second session was from  2 until 5 in the morning. That was the biggest crowd that they had ever had….Naturally, that many people couldn’t get inside the warehouse. There were loudspeakers which carried the music to the acres and acres of people outside.”

— From  “Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie” (2002) 

At least in this account, Count Basie doesn’t mention the black community’s June German on Mondays following the white June Germans on Fridays.


On reconsidering NC barbecue’s continental divide

“For some years, I’m now prepared to admit, I somehow labored under the impression that Rocky Mount is the line of demarcation that separates the two principal schools of North Carolina barbecue. Wrong. The line of demarcation is….”

— From “In Defense of the True ’Cue: Keeping pork pure in North Carolina” by Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker (Nov. 2)

Who but the peripatetic Trillin could quote in a single (if lengthy) article not only such regional stalwarts as John Shelton Reed, Doug Marlette,  Dennis Rogers and Jerry Bledsoe, but also Ada Louise Huxtable?

Kim Severson, Atlanta-based food reporter for the New York Times, calls it “a deceptively simple story about heat and meat…. I defy anyone but the staunchest vegetarians and kosher keepers to not want a pork sandwich after they read it.”


What Jim Thorpe won in Stockholm he lost in Rocky Mount

On this day in 1982: In Lausanne, Switzerland, the International Olympic Committee restores two gold medals won by the late Jim Thorpe.

Thorpe, an American Indian voted the greatest athlete of the first half of the century, won medals in the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 games at Stockholm. A few months later, however, a newspaper revealed that Thorpe had been paid $2 a game to play semipro baseball with the Rocky Mount Railroaders. The practice was common among collegians at the time, but the IOC declared Thorpe a professional, wiped out his records and reclaimed his medals. Almost three decades after his death a campaign led by his descendants persuades the IOC to reverse its decision.


Rescue at sea raises questions about pilot

On this day in 1989: Lawyer Thomas Root blacks out while flying his Cessna 210 on a business trip from Washington to Rocky Mount. Tailed by 19 military planes for four hours, Root winds up ditching in the Atlantic Ocean near the Bahamas and is rescued, suffering from a mysterious gunshot wound in the abdomen. He speculates the .32-caliber handgun in the plane’s glove compartment may have gone off on impact, although Smith & Wesson says this is impossible.



Leonard Decaprio in “It Happened One Night”?

On March 2, 1933, a train pulled into the station in Rocky Mount, unloaded the body of a newlywed septuagenarian… and J. Edgar Hoover became director of the FBI.

Well, the story is a bit more involved, but here goes, according to “J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets” by Curt Gentry (2011):

“Tom Walsh, a confirmed bachelor since the death of his first wife in 1917, had remarried, taking as his bride a member of one of Cuba’s most prominent families. After the wedding… in Havana, the pair had flown to Florida. Feeling ill, Walsh had consulted a doctor in Daytona Beach, who treated him for indigestion. The pair had then boarded the train for Washington and the inauguration [of Franklin D. Roosevelt]. Shortly after 7 a.m… Mrs. Walsh had wakened to find the senator lying face down on the floor next to his berth. By the time a doctor could be found, Walsh was dead. A physician in Rocky Mount listed cause of death as ‘unknown, possibly coronary thrombosis’….

“Apparently the 72-year-old attorney general-designate [and former Montana senator] had died following a too strenuous honeymoon with a much younger bride….”

(Or maybe he was the victim of a Cuban political conspiracy….)

Walsh made it clear his first act as AG would be a housecleaning at the Bureau of lnvestigation, starting with director J. Edgar Hoover.  Instead, Hoover used his serendipitous reprieve to ingratiate himself with Walsh’s successor and to lock up what turned out to be a lifetime appointment as FBI director.