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William Ashe, Railroad Proponent, Handcar Crash Victim

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 09/14/2014 - 08:14

On September 14, 1862, William Ashe, railroad president and commander of the Confederate government’s transportation network between New Orleans and Richmond, died after being struck by a train.

Born in 1814 in what is now Pender County, Ashe was a lawyer and rice planter before entering politics. He was elected to the state senate in 1846, and in that chamber, worked to secure appropriations for railroads, particularly for ones that would connect the western part of the state with the port in Wilmington. He was re-elected to the state senate in 1848 before entering Congress in 1849, where he continued to focus on internal improvements. He became president of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad in 1854.

An outspoken supporter of secession, Ashe was asked by President Jefferson Davis to take control of the Confederate government’s rail transportation in 1861. In 1862, when he heard that one of his sons had been captured, he commandeered a hand car to make a trip home. As he traveled, an unlighted train struck him during the night.

Ironically, the very thing that Ashe had worked so hard to bring to life took his own.

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Village People’s Cowboy Hailed from Raleigh

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 09/13/2014 - 06:30

The original Village People. Randy Jones is on the far left. Image from Getty Images.

On September 13, 1952, singer Randy Jones of the disco group Village People was born in Raleigh.

Jones grew up in Wake County, graduating from Enloe High School in 1970. After attending the North Carolina School of the Arts and UNC, he began to dance and act professionally in New York City.

The concept of the Village People group was the brainchild of record producer Jacques Morali. Jones was cast as the original cowboy in 1977, and remained with the act for three years. The idea of a concept group was not a new one, but the Village People were imbued with such energy, irony and campy enthusiasm that they were wildly successful. In fact, some form of the group has been performing since the Village People scored their U.S. first hit with “Macho Man” in 1978.

The group racked up a number of big hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s with “Y.M.C.A.,” “In the Navy,” “Go West” and “Can’t Stop the Music” among others. That period of great creativity was the group’s heyday.

Jones, appropriately, lives in Greenwich Village. He continues to perform and act.

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Bounty Off Cape Hatteras in Shipwreck of the Central America

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 09/12/2014 - 06:30

The SS Central America. Image from the Library of Congress.

On September 12, 1857, the S.S. Central America sank 200 miles off Cape Hatteras with great loss of life. The side-wheel steamer was bound for New York from Havana when she encountered a hurricane and sprung a leak.

In addition to about 500 passengers and a crew of 100 aboard, the Central America was carrying mail and more than $1.5 million in gold, including coins minted in San Francisco. Around 145 people aboard the ill-fated ship were rescued by three vessels that were in the vicinity of the wreck at the time of the sinking, but the rest perished.

The great loss of gold was a contributing factor to the Panic of 1857, a short yet severe economic downturn fueled by a loss of confidence in the banking system. The panic was marked by the suspension of gold payments by financial institutions, the failing of businesses, factory closings and a rise in unemployment.

Treasure hunters discovered the wreck of the Central America in 1988, and salvage of the gold began but was halted by a court order in 1991. In April 2014, Odyssey Marine Exploration resumed recovery of the Central America’s lost treasure. To date more than 13,500 coins, bars and ingots have been recovered.

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Moses Hopkins, From Slavery to Liberia via Franklinton

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 06:30

On September 11, 1885, Moses A. Hopkins was appointed Minister to Liberia.

Born into slavery in Virginia in 1846, Hopkins worked as a cook in Union camps during the Civil War. In 1866, at age 20, he learned to read, launching his lifelong interest in education. When he completed his degree in theology in 1877, he was the first African American graduate of Auburn Seminary in New York. Ordained by the Presbyterian Church in 1877, Hopkins moved to Franklinton.

In Franklinton, Hopkins founded Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church and Albion Academy. He led Albion through its formative years, and published a newspaper, The Freedmen’s Friend, with his wife, Carrie. The only known issue is from August 1884.

When Hopkins was appointed Minister to Liberia, he reported to Monrovia within a month. He died there in August 1886. His place of burial is unknown.

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Road for Charles Kuralt Began, Ended in North Carolina

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 06:30

Kuralt hosts CBS New Sunday Morning in 1991. Image from the North Carolina Collection
at UNC-Chapel Hill.

On September 10, 1934, celebrated CBS journalist, television news anchor and bestselling author Charles Kuralt was born in Wilmington.

The winner of 12 Emmys and two Peabody Awards, Kuralt showed early promise as a writer. Voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by Charlotte’s Central High School class of 1951, the budding writer attended UNC, where he was editor of The Daily Tar Heel.

Kuralt’s first professional job was with the Charlotte News, where he wrote an award winning column called “Charles Kuralt’s People.” In 1957, at age 23, he became the youngest correspondent ever hired by CBS News.

A decade later, during a period of war and riots, he experimented with a good-news segment on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Called “On the Road,” the feature ran for more than 20 years. During that time, Kuralt and his crew wore out six campers, crisscrossing the country’s back roads and telling stories about ordinary Americans. He later anchored CBS News Sunday Morning before retiring in 1994.

Kuralt died in July 1997, at age 62, of complications from lupus. At his request, he was buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery on UNC’s campus.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Heroine of the American Revolution Martha Bell

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 06:30

A monument honoring Bell at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

On September 9, 1820, Martha McFarlane McGee Bell, heroine of the American Revolution, died at her home in Randolph County. The wife of a Deep River gristmill owner, Bell and her husband were ardent supporters of American independence, and their mill became a gathering place for local patriots during the war. There is also evidence that the Continental Army used the mill to store supplies.

Bell’s credit as heroine, though, stems from an incident following the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. British General Charles Cornwallis camped at the Bells’ Mill for two days, needing to grind corn for his troops and time to rest and treat the wounded. Bell treated the British hospitably and nursed the injured in return for Cornwallis’s promise that his troops would do her property no harm. The British left without incident.

When American General “Lighthorse” Harry Lee arrived at the mill shortly after the British departed, he encouraged Bell to visit Cornwallis at his next camp on a ruse related to property damage. Bell acted as a spy for the patriots, noting details as to Cornwallis’ troops and supplies.

A monument on the grounds of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park honors Bell.

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Jordan Lake’s Namesake Served in U.S. Senate

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 06:30

A 1957 “Vote for Jordan” poster from the
N.C. Museum of History‘s collection

On September 8, 1896, B. Everett Jordan was born in Ramseur. Before being appointed to fill the vacant seat of Senator Kerr Scott in 1958, he was a successful textile executive who had worked his way up the ladder in one company since the 1920s.

Although several newspapers at the time considered him to have been placed in the Senate as a “seat warmer” for Luther Hodges who was then governor and popular politically, Jordan was reelected in 1960 and 1966.

His work in the Senate focused on Agriculture and Forestry, Public Works and Senate Rules and Administration. He introduced the tobacco “acreage-poundage” legislation that changed the way tobacco was marketed and valued. He also helped the state to acquire federal funds for water resources and harbor improvements.

Jordan’s age and health were key factors in the 1972 Democratic primary race for his Senate seat. At that time, he was defeated by Nick Galifianakis, who in turn lost the general election to Republican Jesse Helms.

The Chatham County New Hope Lake project, authorized in 1963, was renamed in honor of Jordan in 1973.

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Georgia Poet Sidney Lanier Died in Polk County

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 09/07/2014 - 06:30

Image from the Georgia Division of Archives and History.

On September 7, 1881, Sidney Lanier, widely-acclaimed poet, author and musician, died at his home in Polk County.

A Georgia native, Lanier spent time in North Carolina during the Civil War when his unit was assigned to help construct Fort Fisher. While there he wrote some of his earliest poetry. After transferring to the Confederate Signal Corps, Lanier was assigned to a fleet of blockade runners that operated out of the lower Cape Fear River. In 1864, he was captured just off Fort Fisher by the Union Navy. While confined at Point Lookout, Maryland, he translated several literary works and reflected on his wartime experiences. His 1867 novel, Tiger-Lilies, was based in part on his Civil War service.

Lanier contracted tuberculosis after his release in 1865 and, from then on struggled through intermittent bouts of disease. He moved to Asheville in 1881, shortly before moving again to Lynn in Polk County. It was in Lynn where he wrote his last poems and succumbed to his illness.

The house Lanier occupied in Lynn still stands, along with a library that bears his name in nearby Tryon. He was immortalized in stone at Duke Chapel in Durham, as one of the three “Great Men of the South.”

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Brightleaf Tobacco and the Benefits of Napping

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 09/06/2014 - 06:30

On September 6, 1856, Abisha Slade of Caswell County spoke at an agricultural meeting about “the new process of curing yellow tobacco.”

The talk reflected an agricultural breakthrough that had been discovered by one of Slade’s slaves by mistake in 1839. The slave, named Stephen, worked as a blacksmith and oversaw the curing process of the tobacco crop on Slade’s farm.

America’s Largest Bright Leaf Tobacco Market
in Wilson. Image from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill

One day, Stephen fell asleep in the tobacco curing barn, succumbing to the warmth of the curing shed’s fire. Waking up he found the fire almost completely out. He retrieved charred logs from his blacksmithing equipment and threw them on the fire, creating sudden, immense heat. The heat cured the tobacco quickly, leaving it with a vivid yellow color.

Stephen’s accidental discovery became what is known in the industry as flue-cured tobacco and to consumers as brightleaf tobacco. It was an instant hit with smokers. By 1857, Slade was harvesting 20,000 pounds annually and making some of the highest profits ever. The sandy, relatively infertile soil of many North Carolina farms was ideal for growing tobacco for such a curing process.

The development of brightleaf tobacco was what ultimately led North Carolina to a dominant position in the tobacco industry.

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Pamlico Pacesetter in School Transportation

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 09/05/2014 - 06:30

A circa 1917 school bus made for the Pamlico County Schools.
Image from the State Archives.

On September 5, 1917, the Pamlico County Schools inaugurated the first motorized school bus service in North Carolina.

Pamlico, among the most rural counties in the state, sought to make transportation for students faster and easier. Before the widespread use of automobiles, horse-drawn wagons were used to transport students to school, and the state didn’t provide that student transportation could come at public expense until 1911.

Early school buses manufactured by the Corbitt Truck Company in Henderson. Image from the State Archives.

Pamlico County’s first bus was purchased from the Corbitt Company of Henderson and cost $1,379. The bus could seat 30 passengers and was used to transport students in and around Oriental. The introduction of a motorized bus to deliver students from outlying areas to the schoolhouse was considered a logistical triumph, and made it possible for school districts to move from scattered networks of one-room schoolhouses to modern, centralized schools with more professional staff.

To publicize his innovation, Pamlico’s superintendent drove the bus to Raleigh and gave then Gov. Thomas Bickett and other politicians a ride around the city. The success of Pamlico’s first school bus was quickly followed by similar purchases in other rural counties in the eastern part of the state.

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Dorothy Counts Enrolls at Charlotte’s Harding High School, 1957

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 06:30

Dorothy Counts walks into Harding High School for the first time.

On September 4, 1957, Dorothy Counts enrolled at Harding High School, one of four segregated white schools in Charlotte to receive their first African American students that day. She was accompanied by Reginald Hawkins, a dentist, who would go on to be the first black man in the modern South to seek statewide office when he ran for governor in 1968.

Counts, only 15 at the time, encountered a mob on the sidewalk. White boys and girls, encouraged by their parents, jeered and spat on her. She endured the harassment stoically and marched proudly into a classroom, where other students hissed, mocked and threw garbage at her and where the teachers ignored her. Newspaper photographers captured the scene outside and inside the school. The episode embarrassed and shamed many in the city.

After a week, Count’s father withdrew her from Harding and moved the family to Philadelphia. She returned to Charlotte for college at Johnson C. Smith University and dedicated her career to work in Queen City nonprofit organization and as an advocate for child care.

Desegregation of schools in Charlotte was still unresolved 12 years later, when, in 1969, Judge Robert McMillan issued his decision mandating busing to achieve integration.

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Fast Food Emporium Opened in Greenville, 1960

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 09/03/2014 - 06:30

The first Hardee’s franchise in Rocky Mount, shown here in the 1980s.
Image from the State Archives.

On September 3, 1960, Wilbur Hardee opened a drive-in hamburger stand in Greenville, launching what would become Hardee’s Food Systems, Inc., the fifth-largest fast-food restaurant chain in the United States.

The former Martin County farm boy and World War II Navy cook initially sold his charcoal-broiled hamburgers and milkshakes for 15 cents each, mainly to students at nearby East Carolina University. In 1961, Hardee took on two partners and opened a second restaurant in Rocky Mount. By 1963, the business had grown to a five-restaurant franchise.

A 1972 Hardee’s tote bag. Image from the
N.C. Museum of History.

Hardee lost controlling interest in the operation that same year during a card game with his partners. He later sold his remaining shares for $37,000, but Hardee’s namesake eatery wasn’t his only endeavor. During his lifetime, he opened 85 restaurants throughout the Southeast, including Biscuit Town, Hot Dog City and Beef and Shake. He also started another hamburger chain called Little Mint that grew to 25 locations in the Carolinas.

But it was the Hardee’s chain that achieved the greatest success. In 1997, St. Louis-based CKE Restaurants Inc. bought Hardee’s, which last year boasted more than 2,000 locations worldwide and $1.8 billion in revenue.

Hardee died in 2008 at age 89.

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Elon University’s Beginnings Date to Nineteenth Century

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 06:30

A circa 1923-129 postcard showing an aerial view of the Elon Campus.
Image from the Belk Library at Elon University.

On September 2, 1890, Elon College opened as a four-year liberal arts college in Alamance County.

Plans for the school had been underway since 1872, when what is now the United Church of Christ, decided to open a college. The institution was first called Graham College, but when the trustees were unable to acquire land in that small Alamance County town, a different location for the campus was selected west of Burlington. When the land, filled with old oak trees, was being cleared, the name Elon seemed like a natural fit, since “elon” is the Hebrew word for oak.

A circa 1919-1923 photo of an Elon football player from the N.C. Museum of History‘s collection

The community around the school grew quickly and was incorporated in 1893 as Elon College. The town’s streets were given names commemorating important figures in the development of the Christian Church and of the college. In January 1923, the main campus building was destroyed by fire. During the reconstruction, which took about three years, the campus was expanded with five new buildings.

Elon College added graduate degree programs in the 1980s. To reflect the school’s diverse programs and growing student body, the college changed its name to Elon University in 2000. With that change, the surrounding town changed its name, too, from Elon College to Elon.

Check out Elon’s yearbooks going back 1913 on Digital NC to discover more of the college’s history.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


“Human Spider” Inspired Classic Harold Lloyd Film

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 08:59

Srother scales a building in downtown Los Angeles

On September 1, 1896, Bill Strother, who became nationally acclaimed as the “Human Spider,” was born in Wayne County.

Strother acquired his nickname in Kinston in 1915. Frustrated that handbills he ordered to advertise a real estate auction he was organizing did not arrive in time, Strother indicated to a fellow diner at a lunch counter that he’d now have to climb the courthouse walls to advertise the sale. The diner, who happened to be the editor of the Kinston Free Press, published a story about the proposed climb and thousands showed up to watch.

The PR stunt worked, and that day Strother sold a fortune in real estate, while also unknowingly launching his career as the Human Spider. For a while Strother only climbed buildings to advertise real estate sales, but in December 1917 he began climbing just for climbing’s sake.

In 1922, silent film star Harold Lloyd saw Strother climb a building in Los Angeles. The chance meeting resulted in movie called Safety Last!, in which Lloyd’s character climbed a building to win over a girl. Strother played Lloyd’s friend “Limpy” Bill in the 1923 release. He continuing climbing buildings across the country before retiring after a fall in 1930.

Strother died in a car accident in 1957.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


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