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Oliver, North Wilkesboro Native, a Sixties Pop Sensation

This Day in North Carolina History - 16 hours 4 min ago

On February 22, 1945, pop musician William Oliver Swofford, known professionally as Oliver, was born in North Wilkesboro.

A Morehead Scholar, Swofford joined his first band while at the University of North Carolina but they had no national success. In 1968, he came to the attention of music producer Bob Crewe, who described his voice as “pure, almost like a reed instrument.” After recording the song “Good Morning Starshine” from the musical “Hair,” but before releasing it, Crewe decided that Oliver would be a better name for the rising star.

In the summer of 1969, the song was a hit, climbing to number 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100. During his short musical career, Oliver had an additional hit with “Jean” from the movie, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.” The song’s writer once said that Oliver did not just perform the song well,” he “set a standard for its performance.” “Jean” rose to number 2 on the Billboard chart in the fall of 1969.

In the early 1970s Swofford toured hundreds of college campuses and collaborated with Karen Carpenter before leaving the business. His debut album ultimately stayed on the chart for 38 weeks.  He died in 2000 in Louisiana.

“High Priestess of Soul” Nina Simone Born

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 02/21/2017 - 06:45

On February 21, 1933, Nina Simone, often called the “high priestess of soul,” was born in the small town of Tryon in Polk County.

Determined to become one of the first highly-successful African-American concert pianists, Simone spent a summer at the famed Julliard School after graduating high school in Asheville in 1950. Denied admission to music school in Philadelphia, Simone took menial jobs there.

While on a trip to Atlantic City, N.J. in the summer of 1954, Simone began to experiment with popular music. Word of her talent spread, and she became in high demand at nightclubs all along the Mid-Atlantic coast. After releasing her first album, Little Girl Blue, in 1958, her work began to reflect her increasing involvement in the civil rights movement and her close associations with leading African-American intellectuals like Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes.

After releasing 13 albums during the 1960s, Simone hit a rough patch in the 1970s, struggling with a divorce and mental illness. She toured extensively in Europe during the 1980s and her career began to wind down in the early 1990s. She died in France in 2003.

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Piedmont Airlines Takes Flight

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 02/20/2017 - 05:28

On February 20, 1948, Piedmont Airlines launched its first passenger flight. The flight took off from Wilmington and arrived in Cincinnati after making several stops.

Piedmont Airlines’ roots stretch back to 1940, when a struggling aviation company called the Camel City Flying Service was reincorporated by Thomas H. Davis as Piedmont Aviation. Piedmont Aviation’s initial focus was training pilots and flight instructors to meet the needs of America’s involvement in World War II, but as that conflict wound down the company sought to change its focus to passenger service.

After problems over a contract, Piedmont Airlines took the federal government’s airline regulator—the Civil Aeronautics Board—to court. The case rose to the level of the U.S. Supreme Court and eventually ended in the airline’s favor, allowing the first commercial flight to go forward.

The airline grew steadily, and acquired a unique reputation for simultaneously having excellent customer service and bare-bones airplanes and other equipment. Piedmont Airlines was sold to U.S. Airways in 1989.

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Poole Bill and Anti-Evolution Fervor

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 02/19/2017 - 05:28

William Louis Poteat

On February 19, 1925, the North Carolina House defeated the Poole anti-evolution resolution. The resolution, introduced by D. Scott Poole of Hoke County, proposed that it was harmful to the welfare of the citizens for “Darwinism or any other evolutionary hypotheses” to be taught in the schools.

In January 1924, Governor Cameron Morrison denounced two high school textbooks for their inclusion of evolution. Poole’s resolution sought to keep all such lessons out of the state’s classrooms. William Louis Poteat, a former biology professor, president of Wake Forest College and a devout Baptist, believed that evolution demonstrated the “divine method of creation.” He became one of the outspoken advocates for keeping it in the curriculum.

Although the House appeared to be quite divided on the issue, when it was put to a vote, the resolution was defeated by the comfortable margin of 67 to 46.

The evolution debate received national attention just a few months later during the Tennessee case that has come to be known as the Scopes “Monkey Trial.”  The case was in response to a Tennessee law that was similar to the one that was defeated in North Carolina.

A great overview of the evolution debate in the 1920s in North Carolina from UNC Libraries.

“Witlings Defame Her:” William Gaston and “The Old North State”

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 02/18/2017 - 05:29

On February 18, 1927, the General Assembly adopted “The Old North State” as North Carolina’s official state song.

State Supreme Court Justice William Joseph Gaston of New Bern penned the song’s patriotic lyrics in the 1830s, when North Carolina was lagging economically behind its neighbors and masses of people were moving away. A dedicated public servant and advocate for internal improvements, Gaston sought to defend North Carolina against accusations of being backward.

When court was in session in Raleigh, Gaston stayed at the home of Mrs. James F. Taylor. One day after a couple of women in the household returned from a concert by a group of visiting Swiss bellringers, they began to sing and play one of the concert tunes on the piano. Gaston became inspired. At his office on Hargett Street, he wrote several verses of the now-familiar song, adapting it to the melody he had just heard. A chorus of 50 young women first performed the song at the Whig state convention in Raleigh in October 1840.

R. Culver set Gaston’s poem to music in 1844, but the arrangement composed in 1926 by Mrs. E. E. Randolph in Raleigh is the version familiar to North Carolinians today.

For more on Gaston and the state song, check out the Old North State Fact Book from North Carolina Historical Publications.

Basketball Superstar Michael Jordan Born

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 02/17/2017 - 05:25

On February 17, 1963, American basketball superstar Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York. Before his first birthday, Jordan’s parents moved to Wilmington, where he played three sports at Laney High School and was named to the McDonald’s All-American team.

As a UNC-Chapel Hill freshman, Jordan scored the winning basket in the 1982 NCAA title game. In 1984, he was named College Player of the Year and won the first of two Olympic gold medals (the other was in 1992) with the U.S. men’s basketball team. After his junior year at Carolina, Jordan entered the NBA draft and was picked by the Chicago Bulls.

His high-scoring, high-flying antics quickly made “Air Jordan” an international sports celebrity and marketing marvel. After leading the Bulls to three consecutive NBA championships, Jordan unexpectedly retired in 1993 to pursue a career in baseball. He rejoined the Bulls in 1995 and led them to three more NBA titles before retiring again in 1999. After a two-year hiatus, Jordan returned to basketball, playing with the Washington Wizards. He retired for the final time in 2003. Now the primary owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, Jordan is still widely regarded as the best basketball player of all time.

Henry Bacon, Designer of Washington’s Lincoln Memorial

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 02/16/2017 - 05:24


The dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. Image from the Smithsonian Institution.

On February 16, 1924, Henry Bacon, Jr., architect and designer of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., died.

Born in Illinois in 1866, Bacon moved with his family to Brunswick County in 1876 and then to Wilmington. He attended school in Boston and Wilmington and went on to study at the University of Illinois for a year before moving to Boston to join the architectural firm of Chamberlain and Whidden as a draftsman. He progressed quickly from there, winning awards and joining New York’s prestigious firm of McKim, Mead and White. He studied in Europe during various periods and eventually would partner with James Brite for a time.

Bacon won the commission for the Lincoln Memorial design in 1912 and oversaw its completion. During the next ten years he, somewhat ironically, also served as designer and architect of two of North Carolina’s most well-known Confederate monuments: Raleigh’s Monument to the Women of the Confederacy and Wilmington’s Confederate Monument, working alongside sculptor Francis Herman Packer on that project.

His own grave marker was created from drawings found in his desk following his death in 1924. He kept close connections to the Wilmington area throughout his life and is buried in the family plot in the city’s Oakdale Cemetery.

Encampment at Rockfish Creek, Prelude to Moores Creek Bridge

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 02/15/2017 - 05:25

On February 15, 1776, Patriot forces under Colonel James Moore camped on Rockfish Creek in Cumberland County.

Nearby more than 1,500 Loyalist militia, most of them Scottish Highlanders, gathered under General Donald McDonald at what’s now Fayetteville to march to Wilmington. By fortifying the encampment at Rockfish Creek with over 1,000 men and five artillery pieces, Moore blocked the Loyalists’ most direct route to the coast, forcing them to utilize a narrow bridge at Moores Creek.

There, on February 27, the Loyalists were ambushed by about 1,000 Patriots, artillery and rifles, from Col. Richard Caswell’s and Col. Alexander Lillington’s forces. The Patriots were victorious, killing or wounding at least 50 men and capturing about 850 more.

The Battle of Moores Creek Bridge was a pivotal moment in North Carolina history. Without Loyalist forces to protect the colonial government, the royal system collapsed, allowing Patriot leaders the chance to establish a fledgling state government. The Patriot victory also denied Britain use of North Carolina’s ports, which were logistically significant. The battle at Moores Creek is often referred to as the “Lexington and Concord of the South.”

Initially a state park, the battlefield is now managed by the National Park Service.

Maceo Parker of Kinston Brought the Funk

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 02/14/2017 - 05:23

On February 14, 1943, saxophonist Maceo Parker was born in Kinston. Perhaps best known for his work with James Brown, Parker brought funk to the soul music of the James Brown Band. For nearly 20 years, Brown’s call “Maceo, I want you to Blow!” summoned his unique sound.

Parker was exposed to music early. His father played at least two instruments, and both of his parents sang for their church. His brother was also musical, and the pair joined James Brown’s band together in 1964. He has gone on to collaborate with a host of artists including George Clinton, Prince, Ray Charles, James Taylor, the Dave Matthews Band and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Among Parker’s many accolades and awards are the 2003 Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, the 2012 Les Victoires du Jazz in Paris Lifetime Achievement Award and the  Icon Award at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

Parker tours internationally to this day. He is featured in the book African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina, published by the North Carolina Arts Council.

Blind Boy Fuller of Durham, Blues Master

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 02/13/2017 - 05:22

On February 13, 1941, Piedmont Blues musician “Blind Boy Fuller” died in Durham. Fuller was famous for playing a steel-bodied National guitar that was a natural resonator before amplification. Along with Reverend Gary Davis, Fuller dominated the Bull City’s blues scene, attracting and influencing many musicians.

Born Fulton Allen in Wadesboro in 1907, Fuller learned guitar and country rag songs from older singers in Rockingham. In his late teens, he moved to Winston-Salem where he played on sidewalks for shift workers in tobacco factories. He became completely blind in 1928 and moved to Durham the next year.

In 1935, Fuller was taken to New York by white merchant J. B. Long for the first of many recording sessions with the American Recording Corporation. He released more than 130 songs on several labels in his five-year recording career. Many of his songs centered on the daily struggles of black tenant farmers and the experiences of those who left the South for the North.

Fuller’s repertoire ranged from ragtime to the blues, including “Rag, Mama, Rag,” “Truckin’ My Blues Away” and “I Want Some Of Your Pie.” Fuller often recorded with other musicians, including guitarists Floyd Council and Bull City Red, and harmonica player Sonny Terry.

Hinton James: First Student at Chapel Hill

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 02/12/2017 - 05:09

On February 12, 1795, Hinton James became the first student to enter the University of North Carolina. James, who had walked to Chapel Hill from his home in New Hanover County, was the only student for the first two weeks of the school year. Academically gifted, James helped organize the first literary club and debating society on campus. He was awarded a bachelor’s degree as one of the seven students in the university’s first graduating class in July 1798.

After graduation, James became an assistant to Hamilton Fulton, a Scottish engineer hired by the state to make navigation improvements on the eastern rivers. He was put in charge of operations along the Cape Fear River, but left in 1807 upon his election to the state legislature. He served three terms in Raleigh, before serving as mayor and treasurer of Wilmington and as a magistrate of New Hanover County.

James died in 1847 and was buried at Hopewell Presbyterian Church near Burgaw. A dormitory at the University of North Carolina is named in his honor.

Harriet Jacobs: A Champion of Freedom

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 02/11/2017 - 05:25

On February 11, 1813, Harriet Jacobs, fugitive slave, writer and abolitionist, was born in Edenton.  Harriet spent her childhood unaware of her station in life. But when her white mistress, Margaret Horniblow, died in 1825, Harriet and her brother John were willed to Horniblow’s three-year-old niece, Mary Norcom and thus, under the control of Mary Norcom’s father, Dr. James Norcom.

A runnaway slave notice about Harriet Jacobs now in the State Archives

After suffering years of physical abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of Norcom, Jacobs fled in 1835 and went into hiding in the attic of her paternal grandmother, Molly Horniblow, a free black woman living in Edenton only a block away from Norcom.  According to Jacobs memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861, Harriet lived in that restricted space for almost seven years until she managed to escape north via Edenton’s maritime Underground Railroad.

Jacobs gained her full and legal freedom ten years later. While living the life of a fugitive slave, Jacobs became an anti-slavery activist and an abolitionist author. By the time of the Civil War, as a free African- American woman, Jacobs served as a relief worker dedicated to assisting the newly freed people of her southern homeland.

The Lumbees and the Road to Recognition

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 02/10/2017 - 05:28

A Lumbee family outside their Robeson County home, circa
1895-1915. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On February 10, 1885, the Indians now known as Lumbees were legally recognized by the General Assembly. The act designated the tribe as Croatan, which reflected the idea from the time that the group was descended from the settlers of the “Lost Colony.”

For many years the government pushed the Indians of the Robeson County region to declare themselves either white or African American, but for the Indians, state recognition grew critical when the schools became racially segregated in the 1870s. In order for their children to attend public schools, the Indians had to deny their heritage. There were no public schools for Indians.

State recognition led the county to establish a three-part school system with schools at all levels for the Indians. In 1887, the legislature also established the Croatan Normal School to educate Indian teachers.  The school is now known as the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

Struggling with its own identity and with federal recognition, the tribe adopted a number of names over the years, finally settling on Lumbee.  The name comes from the Lumber River, which winds its way through the Indians’ traditional homeland.

Explorer and Artist William Bartram

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 02/09/2017 - 05:29

On February 9, 1739, William Bartram, America’s first native-born naturalist, was born near Philadelphia.

In 1761, Bartram moved to Bladen County, where his uncle owned a plantation called Ashwood on the Cape Fear River. He opened a store and spent his free time exploring the flora and fauna of the region.

Bartram, demonstrating his significant artistic talent, provided patrons in England with drawings of American plants and animals as early as 1753. In 1773, John Fothergill, a London physician and proprietor of the largest botanical garden in England, commissioned Bartram to travel through the southeast collecting objects of natural history. That March he set out on the trip outlined in his book, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida.

While on his travels in May 1776, in what is now the Nantahala National Forest, Bartram encountered a Cherokee band led by chief Attakullakulla. In his writings, he described not only the flora and fauna but also the native Indians, cataloging forty-three towns and villages of the Cherokee nation. Bartram returned to Philadelphia after his expedition in 1777. His book,Travels, published in 1791, became the most important description of the southeastern United States during the eighteenth century.