Strange karma down on the Edgecombe County line

KerouacWhat is it about the Nash-Edgecombe County line?

There is a strange energy there.

The line was put where it is to gerrymander. The legislature moved it east, probably to dilute the percentage of African-American voters in majority-black Edgecombe.

They moved the line over to follow the tracks of the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. Those tracks had been put where they are after the Wilmington railroad organizers couldn’t find enough investors in Raleigh to run the tracks to Raleigh, so they turned instead to Tarboro investors and an Edgecombe County route toward the Roanoke River.

A remarkable group of lawyers have lived up and down that line: the first African-American lawyer in North Carolina; the second African-American congressman; the founder of the UNC Law School; three chief justices of the North Carolina Supreme Court. They lived in Enfield, Whitakers, Battleboro and Rocky Mount.

Later, one of the most eminent musicians of the Twentieth Century, and also an icon of the beat generation came off the same line in Rocky Mount.  Both started on the Edgecombe side. Thelonius Monk and Jack Kerouac, a couple of Edgecombe County dudes.

Something strange in the neighborhood.

Kerouac’s story may tell a broader tale.

When he lived on Tarboro Street, Jack Kerouac had a dog. His biographer says that dog was “Jack’s only companion in Rocky Mount to whom he could relate”. The dog was kept in the yard yoked to a chain and he cried all day. Kerouac asked his brother-in-law, “How would you like to be tied to a chain and cry all day like a dog?” Kerouac wrote in one of his books, “If you don’t heed the cries of a dog on a chain, how do you expect God to heed your cries?”

With that, Kerouac decamped from Edgecombe and took his dog to live on the Nash County side of the line.

Strange karma down that line.




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