Author Archives: Midlaw

I am the past Managing Partner at Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard, a law firm with 95 attorneys in offices in Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington, North Carolina. I also have roles at Guilford College, Westtown School, the NC IOLTA Plan, the Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation, The Greensboro Public Library Foundation and the NC Bar Association and Legal Aid of NC. For many years a resident of Greensboro, I am a native of Tarboro and Edgecombe County. I have a taste for and interest in hummus, which is extensively exercised in this blog.

Edgecombe County! – The view from 1891

Not long ago, MidLaw called attention to Joyner Library’s Digital Collections at East Carolina University. They collect and publish papers, photographs, maps, and other materials centered on northeastern North Carolina. There’s a trove of Tarboro and Edgecombe County materials there.

Partly in response to MidLaw’s post, a resident of Greensboro and descendant of Edgecombe’s Bridgers and Battle families came forward with a “motherlode” (her word, and she’s right) of documents. They include President Andrew Johnson’s hand-executed presidential pardon of Tarboro’s John L. Bridgers,  who commanded Fort Macon and earlier had commanded the Edgecombe Guards at the Battle of Bethel when Edgecombe’s Henry Wyatt was killed, becoming the first Confederate soldier killed in the Civil War.

Hands down, MidLaw’s favorite document from the motherlode is a 40-page pamphlet published in 1891, entitled Edgecombe County! North Carolina. Her People and Resources. The Foremost Agricultural Section of the State

It’s a unique and vivid picture of Edgecombe County in 1890 – in words and graphic sketches. And it evidences both how Edgecombe understood its past (“Cotton is no longer King!”) and also its robustly optimistic vision for the future (“The county offers every opportunity … and all that is needed is some men among us who have not cotton in their eyes, first, last and all the time.”)

It is spoken in the voice of an unabashed booster, seeking to attract people and investment to the County at the moment when Edgecombe was just beginning a major new emphasis on tobacco.

Tarboro is destined to be a great center for the sale and manufacture of tobacco. … How many of us thought, a little more than a year ago, what an easy mastery the bright leaf would have over King cotton?

At the time the pamphlet was published, the population of the County was 26,179. Only 7,956 of those were white. The pamphlet is breathtakingly racist and incidentally sexist as well:

It is well known that negro labor is unsuited to the cultivation of tobacco. It is a crop for white labor and small farms.

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What we want is increased white population to cultivate the tobacco crops in Edgecombe. 

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We cannot speak of the society of our section without bringing conspicuously into view our women … . They are the most refined and intelligent, and possess all the attributes of body and mind that are essential for them to adorn the highest society of the land. 

So, if African Americans and women are pushed to the side, then the pamphlet actually speaks for only about 4,000 people (about half the white people) in a county of 26,000.

But the claims it makes for Tarboro and Edgecombe – as an agricultural, manufacturing and railroad center – are exuberant. Local resources are confidently said to be without peer in the State:

  • The hotel accommodations cannot be surpassed in the State. (There is a page-sized sketch of “Hotel Farrar, Tarboro – Cost $40,000.”)
  • Four railroads run to or through the town.
  • The town has just completed the handsomest city hall in the State.
  • Edgecombe doesn’t owe a dollar; has better school-houses than any county in the State; and pays three times more per child for education than is the average for the State.
  • President Battle, of the State University, say[s] that there is a greater number of college-bred farmers in Edgecombe than in any other county in the State.
  • The most striking and notable characteristic of the people of this county is the very high degree of intelligence and culture prevailing among our farmers.
  • There is more culture among her people, as little crime and disorder, and more comforts and refinement in her homes than can be found elsewhere in North Carolina.
  • It is a land lying midway between the bleak North and the hot languid South, where peace and plenty bless all with their smiles.
  • There is no section of the country in which the seasons are more equally distributed than in Edgecombe.
  • Tarboro is as cosmopolitan as any town in the South.
  • Edgecombe’s citizens are the most enlightened, law-abiding, liberty-loving, congenial and courteous.
  • No more cultured, able and impressive ministers are to be found anywhere. Regular church attendance is very large.

Some twenty pages adumbrate Edgecombe’s unique agricultural potential. Beyond cotton, tobacco and peanuts (“no section is superior to this for growing peanuts”), the range of vegetables, fruits, ornamental plants, crops, timber, dairy and livestock that can succeed in the County takes twenty pages and more to describe – from 50-pound watermelons to turnips, rutabagas, asparagus, all fruits, the tea plant of China, trailing arbutus, yellow jasmine, burdock, and the finest thoroughbred horses bred in North Carolina. “You stir the earth, nature does the rest.” Opportunities in manufacturing, transportation, and finance go from here.

Judge H.C. Bourne, who had come to Tarboro from Mississippi found that

The people of Edgecombe are unsurpassed for their energy, pluck and perseverance. They are hospitable and liberal, broad in their views and enterprising – requisites that always command success.

No doubt, salt is needed with this dish. Not a pinch, but a boxful.

Still – despite all the moral and social short-sightedness – and the pall of knowing that a hundred years of Jim Crow lie ahead – Edgecombe County, and all its towns and villages (which are described) are pictured as rising, hopeful and enterprising places. Leading farmers are cited by name.

The hyperbole itself is a gushing resource.

This is a great little artifact: parochial, chauvinist, historical, nostalgic. And it’s hard to resist the conclusion that, with all its (undisclosed) faults, Edgecombe County is a pretty cool place –  where the citizens are uncommonly “intelligent and hospitable”, the “plants please the eye and make glad the heart”, and the people “only die from old age”.

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Quaker witches, a continuing problem

Not long ago I ran across this account of William Penn’s decision at Pennsylvania’s “one and only witchcraft trial”:

After a Quaker jury had found the woman innocent, Penn asked her “Art thou a witch? Hast thou ridden through the air on a broomstick?” To her affirmative reply, Penn answered that she had a perfect right to ride on a broomstick, that he knew of no law whatever against it, and ordered her discharged.

I worry about the friendly skies in our high tech future.  A mess of Quaker witches and drones running into each other.

Heads up, friends.

Cahiers de Hoummous: who originated articles about who originated hummus?

We are at a tipping point in worldwide hummus culture.

The number of articles and posts asking who invented hummus has burst through the top. We cannot absorb more  – playing Israel against Lebanon, pitting Lebanon and Israel against Syria, Turkey, Egypt, and Greensboro. The number of these articles and the diminishing returns from reading them are approaching Eastern-NC-vs.-Piedmont-NC-barbeque proportions.

Enough! Who cares?

Herewith, MidLaw issues a meta query. Who started this? Who originated the exhausting topic of who originated hummus?

This too is disputed. Many point to a certain ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic, “Hummus bin tahini are us”. But its interpretation is subject to uncertainty. A key phrase might say “mash your chickpeas, then mix in the lemon juice,” or it may say “spank your ox smartly with a fresh lemon branch.” Scholars disagree.

These endless debates are figments of these tribal times. They do not make the hummus better.

Rise above. Roll your own.

Find the mean. The golden one.

 

 

Justice innovations — chucking 20th Century models out the window

In the clamor about innovation in the legal profession, a singular idea is striking a chord.

Real innovation, some are saying, will not consist of new ways to perform the chores of 20th Century lawyering. Instead, real innovation will focus on new ways to solve people’s problems. Maybe not every legal problem requires a lawyer. Maybe not every question implicates the Magna Carta.

Outside the justice business, the great new companies of the 21st Century — Amazon, Apple, Uber — are chucking 20th Century models out the window. They are reinventing what they do and getting things done cheaper and faster than ever before.

For law, it’s different.

Society has gotten way more complex. Demands for law-based outcomes have exploded —especially in low-dollar personal contexts like healthcare, housing, domestic affairs, veterans rights, social security, disaster recovery, and consumer financial issues. But legal outcomes continue to be delivered for the most part in the same old ways.

All this weighs most heavily on people without a lot of money. They are the ones with all the domestic and housing and veterans issues. 80% of the people who need to use the justice system can’t afford it. They can’t afford the lawyers. And the ones who can afford lawyers aren’t happy about that. Too often, they get expensive, slow, lawyer-centered solutions. “There is far too much law for those who can afford it and far too little for those who cannot.

Innovations are coming, but before now they have focussed mostly on how lawyers work, and not so much on customer experiences.

In North Carolina though, some intimations of change are appearing. George Hausen says that Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) is North Carolina’s “laboratory of innovation” for the justice system and he claims some victories. He points to

  • LANC-fostered medical-legal partnerships,
  • LANC’s eviction diversion program,
  • LANC’S call center, self-help clinics, and videos,
  • LANC’S foreclosure prevention programs, and
  • partnerships between LANC and North Carolina’s members of Congress to ensure delivery of veterans benefits.

LANC catches problems aborning and finds solutions that bypass the legal system. They take lawyers out of the picture.

LANC receives high volumes of requests for services in low-dollar kerfuffles. It has developed expertise in subject matters that not many private lawyers can match such as personal housing issues, foreclosure prevention, consumer issues, veterans benefits, healthcare, domestic violence, natural disasters. LANC’s perspectives on the system (high-volume, low-dollar) are unique. Its solutions are innovative.

Government support and private philanthropy (institutional and personal) for LANC is a good investment in justice system innovation. LANC needs a lot more support than it gets.

Cahiers de hoummous: chickpea shortage looming, discipline advised

In the past 10 years, domestic demand for chickpeas in the United States has gone from less than 47,000 tons to nearly 200,000 tons a year. Between 2015 and 2016 alone, demand doubled. From 2016 to 2017, US acreage planted in chickpeas increased by an estimated 86%.

In 2017, Americans ate 1.85 pounds of chickpeas apiece, up from 1.21 pounds the year before.

Now, there is word of shortages — droughts in the US and India. Prices rising,

Have we overdone this hummus thing?

Chickpea discipline is needed.  Roll your own. Don’t eat too much. Wait until next season. (Pray for rain?)

A storm blows your house down and you have to have a lawyer

N&O storm photo

Legal aid brings legal services to help with basic human needs of people who can’t afford lawyers.

Right now in Greensboro, Legal Aid of North Carolina is bringing disaster legal services to people hit by that tornado:

  • Assistance with appeals of FEMA and other benefits available to disaster survivors
  • Assistance with life, medical and property insurance claims
  • Help with home repair contracts and contractors
  • Replacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the disaster
  • Assisting in consumer protection matters, remedies, and procedures
  • Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems
  • Counseling on landlord/tenant problems

Legal Aid of North Carolina, the North Carolina Bar Association, the American Bar Association and FEMA are bringing Disaster Legal Services for low-income tornado survivors in Greensboro. There is a hotline: 1-833-242-3549.

Far more than in the past, people need legal services to help with basic needs. It’s the system we have built. Disaster relief is a small department of the help that Legal Aid delivers to low wealth people.

There’s a lot more to say:

  • why legal assistance for everybody must be a key feature in the complex system we have built;
  • why needed services can’t be provided solely by volunteer pro bono assistance; and so,
  • why Legal Aid needs and merits both government and charitable resources.

For now, it’s good to know they’re on the job in Greensboro. That tornado was a disaster.

Cahiers de Hoummous: Consider the eggplant

Baba Ganoush, or Baba Ganouj

MidLaw has railed in the past against the misappropriation of the term “hummus” for non-chickpea purposes.

“Pumpkin hummus”, ” butterbean hummus.” Bah! Pumpkus and butterbumkus!

Consider the eggplant.

For thousands of years, eggplants have provisioned their own dip.

Eggplant dip is virtually identical to hummus, differing only by the substitution of eggplant for chickpeas in the traditional recipe.

But eggplant has never sought to be known as “eggplant hummus.” It’s had its own name from the start: baba ghanoush (which, by the way, has its own sort-of-interesting etymology and also suffers from competing Arab and Jewish identities). Curiously, while hummus and baba ghanoush come from the same place and same time, nobody wants eggplant’s name. There’s no bababutterbean, no pumpkinoush.

Baba ganoush, by the way — although never known as “eggplant hummus” —  is a mighty good dip.

Your move, butterbean.

Robust Tarboro Jewish community in 19th & early 20th Century — first bank holding company in US had roots in Tarboro

Tarboro attracted its first Jewish citizens just before the Civil War, following the construction of the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad.

Tarboro and Edgecombe investors had influenced the railroad to build its main line through Edgecombe County instead of Wake County. A spur line was built off the main line, which is now the Nash-Edgecombe County line, to Tarboro. It connected Tarboro to the wider world.

With the railroad, Jewish citizens among many others came to town. By the late 19th Century, Tarboro was home to a Jewish community that was robust, prosperous and creative, although it never exceeded 15 families.   A hundred years later,  they were mostly gone. Several with origins in Tarboro’s Jewish community went on to have notable careers well beyond Edgecombe County, including an international “man of curiosity, mysticism, and luck,” and a ground-breaking, nationally prominent American banker and consumer champion (by then a Presbyterian) who established the first bank holding company in the United States and originated Morris Plan banks.

Arthur J. Morris, University of Virginia Archives

Harold Bernard “Dov” Shugar

Gladys Knight at Carolina Theatre, Pips

Gladys Knight gave an hour-and-a-half concert the other night at the Carolina Theatre in Greensboro, playing to a sold-out crowd. She’s way north of Medicare and MRDs, but so was the audience. The performance was fresh, energetic, upbeat.

In her wind-up to “Midnight Train to Georgia” and in her only reference to them all night long, she pointed to the crowd and said, “Y’all be my Pips.”

That deal was done.

Cahiers de Hoummous: Dispatches from the field

From the field comes this report:

Saturday night we went to this Israeli  restaurant in New Orleans called Shaya. They had asparagus hummus, which was hummus topped with a blob of greengarlic, snap peas, sumac, and cabernet vinaigrette. We also had a cauliflower hummus which had a topping of caramelized onions, parsley and cilantro. And they offered a tahini hummus, which we did not sample.

“Hummus topped with”: that’s the ticket. But then, was the underlying purée of chickpeas, or not?

Undeniably though, this dispatch goes beyond nomenclature. Asparagus, cauliflower: right there’s some boon companions for chickpeas.

And, “tahini hummus” makes the nomenclature point. It’s an acceptable rendering of “hummus b’tahini”. It’s chickpeas with tahini. Not tahini instead of chickpeas.