“On Feb. 24, 1986, Seattle residents awoke in a county named for William Rufus DeVane King, a slave-holding North Carolinian and 1852 vice presidential candidate. They went to bed that night in a county named for Martin Luther King Jr.
“And it was all so simple! As the King County official who proposed the switch said: “We won’t have to reprint stationery or change road signs or anything like that.”
“King County’s alchemy ought to be instructive to the 15-member committee now charged by City Council with reconsidering Charlotte’s own racially offensive public nomenclature.
“Morrison Boulevard, for instance, honors Gov. Cameron Morrison, the decades-long race-baiter whose farm would become SouthPark. Wouldn’t the city’s character — and image — be better served by renaming the street for Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, the late Black novelist?
“And what about Stonewall Street — how about ditching the Confederate general and commemorating instead the historic Stonewall Riots that launched the gay liberation movement?”
— From “A fix for street names that offend,” my letter to the editor of the Charlotte Observer (Sept. 18)
Charlotte preservationist Len Norman reminded me on Facebook that “We can find an example here in North Carolina regarding Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. A few years back the University re-designated the stadium to be named for the son (who gave money to build it) instead of his father who had connections with the white supremacist movement in the late 1890s.”
“In 1861, [Dan] Sickles organized militia for the Union effort, and the next year was appointed brigadier general under Gen. Joseph Hooker in the Army of the Potomac. He rose to major general… and notoriously defied his commanding generals’ instructions at key battles. At Gettysburg, a cannonball mangled Sickles’ right leg, and it had to be amputated.
“Sickles donated his leg, soaked in whiskey as a preservative, to the Army Medical Museum in Washington, D.C., where it became exhibit No. 1335.
“ ‘For years afterward,’ Reid Mitenbuler writes in his book, ‘Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey,’ ‘on the anniversary of the amputation Sickles would visit his leg at the museum to remind everyone of his heroic sacrifice, using it to revive a political career that lasted until he’d died at the age of ninety-four.’
“This is the man who ran Reconstruction in North Carolina….”
— From “African-American news reflected 1860s Asheville” by Rob Neufeld in the Asheville Citizen-Times (Feb. 25)
And then there’s Stonewall Jackson’s arm….
On this day in 1863: Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederacy’s master tactician, dies of pneumonia, eight days after being mistakenly shot by troops from the 18th N.C. regiment.
He was shot at nightfall while scouting ahead of the line near Chancellorsville, Va. His men mistook him for the enemy. As he lay wounded, doctors amputated his maimed arm. “He has lost his left arm,” says Robert E. Lee, “but I have lost my right arm.”
“In the late ’60s, I had a high-school English teacher who was, shall we say, getting on in years, and she kept paintings of [Robert E.] Lee and Stonewall Jackson hanging on the wall of her classroom. What’s interesting about this is that the high school where she taught [R. J. Reynolds High in Winston-Salem] was the most successfully integrated institution I have ever known. Because the high school was located in the geographical center of the city, the student body was made up of black and white, rich and poor and middle-class kids. Because the Methodist orphanage was located across the road from the school, we even had orphans.
“It was a true cross section of society, but somehow everyone co-existed amicably, or the students did, at least. The administration and much of the faculty, especially the older teachers, seemed to view integration more grudgingly, as though it were a trick played on them. Historically speaking, of course, their behavior was unexceptional.
“Until the ’60s, our city had been two societies, one black and one white. I grew up with color-coded water fountains, a black balcony at the movie theater, and neighborhoods clearly segregated by race. African-Americans had their own cab and bus services. Before school integration, the only major social event in which both blacks and whites participated equally was the city’s Christmas parade, and even then there was no mingling. Black high school bands marched separately from white school bands.
“The Civil Rights movement changed a lot of that, thanks to the guts and determination of people like Dr. King. I seriously doubt that any teacher in any school in my hometown today has a picture of Robert E. Lee on the wall of her classroom.
“That said, I’m sure there are still teachers who would put up a portrait of Lee if they thought they could get away with it….”
— From “On MLK Day, Two Versions Of The South Collide” by Malcolm Jones at the Daily Beast (Jan. 19)