American Wit and Humor at the Dawn of Mass Media: The Billy Arthur Collection

The Fall 2017 Southern Historical Collection undergraduate student assistant, Ayush Dagar, UNC class of 2020, wrote this blog post. Ayush also provided research support and transcription work for other projects in the Southern Historical Collection during his semester on staff.

Radio personality Ted Malone and Chapel Hill, NC writer and photographer Billy Arthur (holding camera). Portrait taken at the Wilmington, NC Azalea Festival. Hugh Morton Photographs and Films (P081)

Radio personality Ted Malone and Chapel Hill, NC writer and photographer Billy Arthur (holding camera). Portrait taken at the Wilmington, NC Azalea Festival. Hugh Morton Photographs and Films (P081)

While many may remember Billy Arthur (1911 – 2006) for his size – he played many roles in his life: politician, hobby shop owner, vaudeville performer, mascot, newspaper editor, Pulitzer Prize hopeful, but through and through he was a comedian. I discovered Billy Arthur while doing research in the Southern Historical Collection on North Carolina politicians and was struck by the incredible diversity of his talents and occupations.

Undated photograph of Arthur, presumably middle-aged. Found in series 6, folder 1.

Undated photograph of Arthur, presumably middle-aged. Found in series 6, folder 1.

During his time at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Arthur was voted the “Wittiest Man” in his fraternity (Series 3, Folder 35). While chief editor of Jacksonville’s (N.C.) News and Views newspaper, their motto was “The Only Newspaper in the World That Gives a Whoop About Onslow County” (Series 3, Folder 35) And his is the only collection in the Southern Historical Collection that includes the “American wit–20th century” Library of Congress subject heading.

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A Light in the Haystack #1: North Carolina Democrats, 1960-2010

North Carolina Democrats have included an interesting assortment of characters over the past 200 years or so. In preparing for this blog, we quickly learned that the general assumptions about this party change a great deal depending upon which decade we focused. We chose this 50-year time period (1960-2010) because it reflects a recent and significant ideological shift in the party. While we have a large collection from one of North Carolina’s most distinguished democrats, Terry Sanford – this post intends to shine a light on other figures in the party, what our collections can say about NC Democrats at the end of the 20th century, and a glimpse at the scholarship on this subject.

Our dive into the archives confirmed what many political historians of the South already know: the SHC materials lean heavily toward the Democratic party in general, with most representatives falling between the years 1840 and 1920 (figure 1). Our quantitative review of collections revealed other patterns – for instance most of our politicians graduated from UNC, we have the highest representation of state level legislators (vs. national or local politicians), most of the politicians come from central and eastern North Carolina, and the political collections average about 2.5 Paige boxes of content.

Figure 1: Bar graph illustrating the year distribution of SHC collections donated by North Carolina politicians, reflects a sample of 25 collections. The big spike between 1880 and 1890 contributes to our large subject strength in Reconstruction politics

Figure 1: Bar graph illustrating the year distribution of SHC collections donated by North Carolina politicians, reflects a sample of 25 collections. The big spike between 1880 and 1890 contributes to our large subject strength in Reconstruction politics

 

 

 

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A Rare Gateway to an Untouchable Past: Oral Histories of Carrboro Mill Families

Between 1974 and 1978, the Chapel Hill Historical Society conducted interviews with men and women who had lived and worked in and around Chapel Hill and Carrboro during the early twentieth century. One of their first projects, “Generations of Carrboro Mill Families” consisted of 117 interviews with Carrboro residents and textile mill workers. The interviews were in response to the Carrboro Board of Alderman’s decision to tear down the original Carr Mill building. For a rather complicated, and long-winded reason, the Southern Historical Collection holds 40 of the 117 interviews conducted, both the audio cassette tapes and their 30-50 page typed transcripts. Question topics run the gamut, and there was a clear effort on the part of the Chapel Hill Historical Society interviewers to gather information about “everyday life.”

“Textile Mill, Greensboro” in the Bayard Morgan Wootten Photographic Collection #P0011, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
This image of a textile mill in Greensboro, NC shows a carding room ca. 1904-1954, probably similar to the one the interviewees describe from the mills in Carrboro.

Some of this work is captured in Valerie Quinney’s article, “Mill Village Memories” published in Southern Exposure in Fall 1980. Quinney was one of the interviewers from the Chapel Hill Historical Society in the 1970s. She offers a meaningful overview of the oral history collection and provides supportive context. Although she includes direct quotes, there’s value in the raw format of the interview collection that is worth pursuing.

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Identity Intersections in the Spotlight: The Joan Little Case

In June of 1974, a 21-year-old black woman was placed in a Beaufort County jail on a breaking and entering charge. By August of that same year, she was on the run after one of her white jailers, Clarence Alligood, was found dead in her cell, stabbed multiple times with an ice pick and naked from the waist down. After a week on the run, Little turned herself in and what followed was a fascinating clash of southern mores, international topics of activism, and the dark truths about the American criminal justice system. On the 43rd anniversary month of the start of the ordeal, this post intends to highlight how the case is documented in the Southern Historical Collection, various interpretations of the material, and why it is a significant part of our manuscript collection.

Illustrated image of Joan Little from https://alchetron.com/Joan-Little-721496-W

The Southern Historical Collection has a small collection of materials on the Joan Little murder trial sold to us by James Reston Jr., a Creative Writing lecturer1 at UNC-Chapel Hill in March of 1976. Reston based his book, The Innocence of Joann Little: A Southern Mystery (1977) on this material. The collection includes transcripts of key witness testimonies from the defense and prosecution as well as news clippings and recorded interviews from significant participants in the trial. Reading through the transcripts, a researcher can put him or herself in the front seat of the courtroom. We learn how Alligood propositioned Joan repeatedly before the murder; we feel how Joan’s voice falters when she must relive her assault on the witness stand (Figure 1); we hear the crass interrogation as the prosecution tries to vilify Joan with assumptions about her sexual history and criminal lifestyle.

Figure 1: From page 44 of Joan Little’s testimony in Folder 1, James Reston Jr., Collection of Joan Little Materials #4006, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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LGBTQ Political Pioneer Joe Herzenberg

 “What was hope yesterday morning is now life for me”

Thanks to “The State of Things” on WUNC (North Carolina Public Radio) for inspiring today’s post with their conversation (also on Twitter) about the experiences of LGBTQ elected officials in North Carolina.

Joe Herzenberg was the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina in 1987. He served on the Chapel Hill Town Council until 1993, when it was revealed that he had not paid state income tax for the previous 14 years. His personal and political papers are held at the Southern Historical Collection (#5367); in addition to correspondence and photographs, the collection includes around 80 diaries written between 1954 to 2006.

His diary from when he was elected in the fall of 1987 (excerpts and images of which are included below) shows the excitement, emotional strain, and tedium of campaigning. Most entries include routine logs about his meals, reading list, and people he saw. Notes about significant personal and political events are written as casually as the mundane, making them both easy to overlook and all the more wonderful when found.

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Update: Women’s March Collecting

The Southern Historical Collection continues to work with the North Carolina Collection to document North Carolina’s involvement in the Women’s March this January; we thought an update on our efforts would be particularly appropriate on International Women’s Day!

Our recent focus has been material culture–the physical resources that were necessary for this “political performance” (a term described in further detail in a post from the National Council on Public History). Along those lines, we have been collecting a representative selection of items: handouts, a pink hat, protest signs (including the ones pictured in this post), and compassion sashes.

We’ve seen a few more items out there (links to examples):

If you know someone who has these, we would love to talk to them!


 

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Archiving the Women’s March

Like many other repositories, the Southern Historical Collection is interested in collecting information about recent local protests in response to national events. We are partnering with the North Carolina Collection to make this happen for the Women’s March that took place on January 21, 2017.

We will be collecting a limited number of items in the following three categories: social media, ephemera (signs, flyers, hats, etc), and images. Because posts and tweets disappear quickly, we are beginning with social media. Stay tuned for information about donating “stuff” and images!

On archiving social media:

Over the last few years, we have turned more of our attention to methods of archiving social media. We can’t capture everything, so we prioritize documenting moments and movements–phenomena that produce dynamic but ephemeral concentrations of information.

This spreadsheet shows the hashtags and social media sites we are capturing and will be updated as needed. Please comment on Facebook or send us an email if you know of any widely-used, location-specific hashtags or pages that we have missed.

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Soul City Film Screening Tonight on UNC-TV

Page of the Groundbreaking Ceremony Brochure from Soul City, NC, with a drawing of a cabin with faces of four people above it. Below is a imaginative description of the town and what it's goals are.

Page of the Groundbreaking Ceremony Brochure from Soul City, NC.

Soul City (Warren Co., NC) was established as a planned community in 1970s under the direction of civil rights leader Floyd B. McKissick. Disenchanted with the systemic suppression, poverty, and racism typical after migration to northern urban centers, he envisioned a “black owned, black built town” that offered families affordable housing, jobs, and healthcare. The project broke ground in 1973 with the help in $14 million in federal funding under the Urban Growth and New Community Development Act. The city quickly developed to include homes on spacious properties, industrial centers, paved roads, and water and sewerage systems; at its height, it was home to 200 people.

However, then-Senator Jesse Helms implemented a series of newspaper smear campaigns against the project, questioned the appropriate use of federal funds, and launched related governmental investigations. The active opposition of the state government and inadequate residential and employment achievements resulted in a complete withdrawal of federal funding in 1979. Without powerful private investors, the project could not continue as planned. McKissick’s children and several of the original residents still live in Soul City.

The documentary Soul City tells the story of the project through archival footage and interviews with residents, both past and present.

Watch the film tonight at 10 pm (EST) on UNC-TV. It can also be viewed here, through the UNC-TV site, for free until February 3rd.

In addition to the film, the story of Soul City has also been documented through oral history interviews, archival collections, and both popular and scholarly publications. Many of these resources are available online (see below).

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