th[1]Nearing the end of her term, Governor Beverly Perdue today granted pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten. Accused in 1971 of firebombing a white-owned grocery store in Wilmington and shooting firefighters who responded as violent riots raged in the city, their case exposed racial tensions that had  divided North Carolina’s largest port since the riots of 1898. Justice delayed, but not denied. The N&O’s story can be found here:


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Amazing what you find in a Clerk of Court file

Take a look at one of my friends found while processing some nineteenth century Clerk of Court records from eastern North Carolina. What other items lurk in archive boxes?

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Charles W. Chesnutt makes it into print

Anyone who has tried to publish knows how tough the road can be. I have been working on my North Carolina history class for the fall term and trying to juggle several writing projects, making things pretty busy around my office. I’ve sort been like the donut maker in the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial, feeling like “I’ve already made the donuts!” But, back to the business at hand.

As I gathered materials for the class, I discovered an August many years ago marked an important first in North Carolina’s literary history. In the August 1887 issue, The Atlantic published the first short story by a writer with North Carolina roots. Charles W. Chesnutt, born in 1858 in Cleveland, Ohio to free parents from Fayetteville, would become one of the most articulate and forceful voices in African American literature. Although a Buckeye by birth, his family returned to Fayetteville shortly after the Civil War and he spent much of his formative years in North Carolina. His father, then a store owner, did not enjoy a great deal of financial success, but young Charles won recognition in the classroom. He soon became a teacher at age thirteen and went on to become principal of the state normal school that would become Fayetteville State University.

He returned to Cleveland, passed the bar, and established a lucrative stenography business, but Chesnutt soon applied his considerable intellectual prowess to exploring his own African American identity. Chesnutt’s 1887 literary debut, “The Goophered Grapevine,” brought readers of The Atlantic a bit of African American local color from North Carolina, but soon his interests moved to bigger topics. Chesnutt grew bolder, taking up issues of racial violence in The Marrow of Tradition, a novel about the Wilmington riots of 1898. He also addressed issues of race and identity — especially as it related to mixed race Americans — in The House Behind the Cedars. His time in North Carolina provided Chesnutt with the foundation for the deft and sensitive portrayals of the tensions of race and identity for which his writings are still known.

He died in Cleveland in 1932. Although he made his money in another field, he is still remembered as one of North Carolina’s most significant literary figures. Ok, now back to work.

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Confederate Past? What about other pasts?

I just finished reading Karen Cox’s latest post on her blog, Pop South. In it, Karen traces a recent visit to Chimney Rock and her gift shop encounters with all things Confederate. As Karen notes, this is a little ironic, as western North Carolina was far from being of one mind about the Confederate cause. You don’t see many Union monuments around the Old North States (there are a few), and you never see the merchandising of this aspect of the state’s past. An act memory? Or the market at work? Take a read.

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Whaling at Diamond City

Browsing the Raleigh News & Observer this morning, I came across this article about whaling on the North Carolina coast. In the nineteenth century, people in a community called Diamond City near Cape Lookout hunted whales in the late winter and early spring while doing whatever they could to make ends meet the rest of the year. By 1900, the community was all but gone.

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A Change is Gonna Come: An On-line Exhibit Review

Earlier this month, the North Carolina Museum of History unveiled a new on-line Civil Rights exhibit titled “A Change is Gonna Come: Black, Indian, and White Voices for Racial Equality.” When most people think of the fight for Civil Rights in North Carolina, they tend to think of Greensboro. On February 1, 1960, four young men from North Carolina A&T — Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and David Richmond — walked to the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, sat down, and waited to be served. They were not, at least not that day. Their somber and dignified action not only challenged law and tradition, but also reengerized  the movement to overthrow segregation in North Carolina and across the South. But, their heroic act was only one of many steps along the meandering path towards equality.

Not only does “A Change is Gonna Come” recognize the key events and actors in North Carolina’s struggle for Civil Rights, but it also recognizes what historians have come to call “the Long Civil Rights Movement.” Put simply, the fight for equality did not start with the Brown decision in 1954. Rather, this site recognizes that the history of Civil Rights is embedded throughout the history of our state. Greensboro, as important as it remains, was not the first sit-in in North Carolina. On June 23, 1957, a group of African American teenagers entered the segregated Royal Ice Cream stand in Durham and refused to leave when they were not served. They were arrested for trespassing and their case eventually wormed its way to the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear it. Other African Americas preceded  even these teens in taking actions, large and small, to push the cause of Civil Rights. The point is, the quest for equality did not develop in a linear way and was never a steady march to a foregone, progressive conclusion. And it is more than just an experience shared by African Americans. In North Carolina, Native Americans and white North Carolinians also took important and heroic stands, and in doing so enriched and expanded the meaning of freedom for all in our state.

Starting with the 1830 Indian Removal Act, this site is clearly focused and offers viewers narratives, images, and documents that trace the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina.  It is a step in the right direction for exhibits of this type, broadening context to help viewers better answer how history unfolded, but more importantly, why events occurred as they did. Teachers, students, and anyone interested in Tar Heel history should check out this exhibit. It’s worth your time.

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Advice to a journal editor

From the good folks at North Carolina Miscellany, take a read of the advice by the state’s first archivist — R.D.W. Conner — on what not to publish in the state’s historical journal. Over 80 years old, but it still rings true.

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