New in the collection: matchbook from Melton’s

Matchbook with copy promoting barbecue available by mail order and fixed by R.B. "Bob" Melton

“Born and raised on a Nash County farm, Bob Melton [discovered] his true calling at age 50. Bob, who had ‘been cooking’ since he was 12, started selling barbecue in 1922 using cooking pits along the banks of the Tar River in Rocky Mount. Two years later he built his first restaurant, which became the first indoor sit-down BBQ restaurant in North Carolina. He specialized in whole hog with a vinegar-based sauce and sides of slaw and Brunswick stew.

Matchbook with photo portrait of R.B. "Bob" Melton.

“Over the years Melton’s put Rocky Mount on several culinary maps. In 1958 Life magazine called Bob the ‘King of Southern Barbecue.’
— From Robert “Bob” Melton,  Twin County Museum & Hall of Fame

Melton died in 1958, but the restaurant survived until being destroyed by flooding from hurricanes Fran in 1996 and Floyd in 1999.

Though modest in appearance, this matchbook seems to have been from the advertising medium’s golden age — the 1940s and ’50s.

New in the collection: bicycle licenses

Metal shaped like badges with the names of Rocky Mount and Raleigh and numbers.

I’ve been stymied in unearthing the history behind these two bicycle licenses.

What mention of bike licenses I did find was in Charlotte: In 1954 the city enacted an ordinance requiring a 25-cent metal registration tag. “The move is designed to cope with widespread bicycle theft,” the Observer explained. By 1964 the metal tag seems to have given way to reflector tape, and after that the Observer archives yield not a single mention of the license ordinance. By the 21st century letters to the editor were calling for licensing not to thwart thieves but to crack down on cyclists seen as disrespectful of drivers.

How relevant is any of this to Raleigh and Rocky Mount? Maybe not at all — suggestions welcome!

New in the collection: Chick Shack flyer

Card for Wright's Chick Shack listing address.

[Angela] Bryant, 63, a North Carolina state senator [2007-2018], grew up in the Little Raleigh neighborhood of Rocky Mount.

“Her grandparents, Wright Parker and Nannie Barnes Bryant Parker, owned Wright’s Chick Shack, a restaurant/motel combination [listed in the Green Book 1956-1967].

“ ‘It was an intersection of the black and white community,’ she says. ‘It was a place where white vendors and leaders and business people would come to engage my father and other black community leaders.’

“After earning her bachelor of science degree in math and juris doctor degree in law from UNC Chapel Hill, Bryant came home to help develop the Wright’s Center, an adult day health care facility. The center, a tribute to her grandfather, is located in the building that once housed the Chick Shack.”

– From “Bryant’s roots run deep” by Brittany Jennings  (Nov. 8, 2015)

On the back of this 5.5- by 7-inch flyer: verses 1, 2 and 4 of the Star-Spangled Banner.

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.”