Category Archives: Greensboro

On the road with Albion Tourgée and George Henry White at Bennett College

MidLaw spoke to the East Greensboro Rotary Club this morning. They convene at 7:30 AM in Jones Hall on the campus of Bennett College (they have one handsome dining hall in there but they do gather at an early hour).

Compared and contrasted the careers of Albion Tourgée and George Henry White. That is a very cool topic, but you gotta be a member of the East Greensboro Rotary Club to know why.

(Tourgée was a founder of Bennett College, draftsman of the Education Clause in NC’s 1868 Constitution among many other things. For comparison’s sake, White secured the charter of Livingston College. But that’s not what the talk was about.)

Greensboro placed at the center of American history — “the earliest known” long-distance Underground Railroad scheme

Bound for Canaan, The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement by  Fergus Bordewich, was pronounced by the Wall Street Journal to be “an excellent book . . . as close to a definitive history as we’re likely to see.”

In Bound for Canaan, Bordewich says

By the 1800’s the North Carolina Quakers formed the only sizable abolitionist community south of the border states. Though isolated in an ocean of slaveholders, they were numerous and well organized, and had close links with relatives, friends, and fellow Quakers in the free states. They were uniquely well situated to lay a foundation for the earliest long-distance route of the Underground Railroad.

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Beyond the border states, only in North Carolina, where Quakers provided the critical mass of support, would organized emanciplationist sentiment survive on a significant scale, and produce men radical enough to break the law.

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Levi and Vestal Coffin [from the New Garden community near present-day Greensboro] were shortly to become the founders of the earliest known scheme to transport fugitives across hundreds of miles of unfriendly territory to safety in the free states.

So Bordewich puts Greensboro and Guilford County at the center of the history of the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness in America – a place Greensboro and Guilford have continued to occupy ever since, with the histories of Albion Tourgee, the Sit-In Movement, Henry Frye, the Klan-Nazi Shooting (also referred to as the Greensboro Massacre), and the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

WELL, Fergus Bordewich will be in Greensboro to speak on November 2. His topic:  “Still Bound for Canaan. The Underground Railroad, its History, and its Meaning for the Twenty-First Century.

That event will be free and open to the public.

Baby Boom summoned back to the barricades — we have an image problem

UNCG’s G.R.O.W.T.H. (“Gerontology Research, Outreach, Workforce, & Teaching Hub”) initiative may have stumbled upon the beginings of a disturbing trend.

The scholars at UNCG have observed that prospective gerontology students, when surveyed, say they want to work with older adults, “but not with Baby Boomers.”

They want to work with people “like my grandmother,” instead of Baby Boomers. (Wisely, no one has pointed out to them yet when grandma was born, and what she was doing back in the ‘60s. That’s what education is for.)

No doubt, this attitude among the young has been provoked by surly (not to say “fake”) media narratives.

OK: Baby Boomers did not defeat the Nazis. That was our parents.

And when it came to Vietnam, we split.

US presidents who are Baby Boomers, none of whom bothered with the war, seem destined for not-very-inspiring chapters in the history books. And, there has always been a certain theme of self-absorption among our entire cohort. We are sometimes referred to as “the Me Generation.”

But, speaking as one of the very first Baby Boomers – an original – pretty soon we’re going to need somebody to take care of us. And somebody has got to study us. (We have always liked that.)

So, it’s back to the barricades.

We’ve got an image problem. We’ve got to figure out a way to charm these Millenials and the now-emerging Generation Z. They need to know: it’s not all about them.

Renovating in the groves of academe

The Greensboro News and Record has a good article about it: Guilford College is on theGuilford College 1 move.

A game-changing new curriculum is on the way. “The Guilford Edge” – coming next year – will be a major innovation in higher education and for Guilford. It puts the focus on the student, re-imagines the college experience, and connects immediately to the world that students will graduate into. But that’s next year.

The Orangerie

Right now, Guilford is reshaping the campus – the buildings and grounds – to hold the new program. 

Maybe the most dramatic uplifts are the Nancy-and-Dennis-Quaintance-inspired restoration of dormitories and living spaces, the creation of a dynamic new Student Quad, the Orangerie, and upgrades to the athletics facilities. But those flashy projects overlook what feel like unique and most amazing reinventions of the arts facilities at the Hege-Cox complex, with exhilarating expansions of Guilford’s traditionally very strong arts department. There’s a new sculpture studio, a new ceramics studio, new galleries, and new, state-of-the-art classrooms. Arts students can hardly argue (as some do in other places) that sports are prioritized over arts at Guilford.

Guilford hege-cox_addition-sculpture

One of the new studios behind Hege-Cox

Excitement is palpable among the sculptors. The new spaces and new equipment and other facilities are fostering impressive, contemporary student work and the student locker room calls to mind the locker rooms over at Ragan-Brown Fieldhouse, except with artworks in progress in the lockers instead of “seasoned” sports gear.

What’s more impressive is to learn what happens in the new classrooms, where students and professors integrate arts, social sciences, physical sciences, and traditional liberal arts into reimagined learning – and connect the learned skills of sculptors with real-world, contemporary issues and problem-solving. The sculpture professor over there is on fire with the ways that learning sculpture translates into practical, meaningful work across a broad spectrum of industries after college.

MidLaw would never argue that sculpture is not a great preparation for 21st Century law practice.

To the contrary.

Not your traditional groves of academe. Not only art for art’s sake.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

“Blast the prejudice that puts women down as only fit to be men’s playthings!”

We are at a cultural moment.

Sexual boundaries seem to be the “acutest issue” of the moment.

These are not new questions to North Carolina. This moment is not the first.

In Greensboro in 1878, Quaker editor David Swaim thundered in Greensboro’s leading newspaper: “Blast the prejudice that puts women down as only fit to be men’s playthings!”

His conservative counterpart, former Supreme Court Justice and founder of the UNC Law School, William Horn Battle rejoined: “No Southern lady should be permitted to sully her sweetness by breathing the pestiferous air of the courtroom.”

They were arguing about whether women should be permitted to practice law.

The issue was joined in Greensboro and taken to Raleigh. Leading North Carolina legal figures of the day took up the question: Albion Tourgée, William Horn Battle, Richmond Mumford Pearson.

It is the story of Jamestown native Tabitha Holton who became the first woman lawyer in the South.

A circular published when Holton died proclaimed:

The power of thy genius has broken the iron bands of brutality which had been rivited [sic] for ages upon thy sex. No more can the barbed shaft of prejudice and envy reach thee in thy eternal repose.

First in all the Sunny South to claim, and obtain, the full rights of womanhood

Tabitha Holton’s story is fabulized here. Her victory, which upset the custom and practice of centuries, was, in the end, based on merit. Opposition based on her status as a woman failed to stand against her unquestioned merit as a lawyer.

 

The Splendid Table comes to Greensboro, not for the hummus

The Splendid Table” is readily recognized as a radio program/podcast/website/blog focused on food. To see “Greensboro” identified as a subject of a recent installment was a minor jolt.

My knee jerked: “Please, not another paean to North Carolina barbecue.”

Maybe, hummus?  MidLaw was the first to posit the theory that hummus originated in Greensboro.

As it turns out, The Splendid Table’s focus is neither barbecue nor hummus. It is “the Greensboro Four” who historically sat in for lunch at Woolworth’s in the 1960’s. In a brief interview, Joseph McNeil gives a dignified and generous account of the sit-ins (it’s impossible not to like the guy), reprising the now iconic, unidentified white lady who encouraged the students, and crediting the solidarity of the UNC-G (then, Women’s College) students who came out to support the Four. But he trashed the food.

The Splendid Table picked up the interview from New York’s Other People’s Food. The theme is “the universality of food to find common ground amid racial and cultural differences.”

MidLaw is able to attest: “universality” and not “quality” is the right theme for downtown food in Greensboro at the time. In the 1970’s, when MidLaw set up shop at Brooks Pierce in downtown Greensboro, Woolworth’s was one of a limited few venues for lunch downtown.

Joseph McNeil does not recount being served in 1960, but he does recall returning to Woolworth’s in the 1970’s after the lunch counter was integrated. He says the coffee was bad and the apple pie was bland (“it sucked,” he says).

There weren’t many choices for lunch in downtown Greensboro back then. The big department stores were departing for the shopping centers, taking with them their cafeterias and dining rooms. What was left were lunch rooms in office towers and a small handful of stand-alone restaurants. MidLaw recalls Mathews Grill, a meat-and-two-vegetables place whose proprietor was busy parleying restaurant proceeds into real estate; The Lotus, a mid-century Chinese restaurant that was far from home; Randy’s Sandwich Shop, which served the standard sandwiches of the day; the Southeastern Soda Shop; and a delicatessen whose name I can’t recall that famously served “Kosher Dogs” (hot dogs smothered in sauerkraut). And Woolworth’s. Mr. McNeil’s word captures everything except the kosher dogs: “bland.”

Woolworth’s led the way. The meats at Woolworth’s were such that the smartest order was a Vegetable Plate. The vegetables came largely from cans and frozen packets. Macaroni and cheese was prepared in large sheets and cut into squares with a knife to make a serving. Greens from a can. The squash casserole was redeemed, if at all, by cheese melted in the juices of the squash and onions. Salt was the key ingredient.

Except those who were members of the Greensboro City Club, lunch most often required flight to the shopping centers, where the great American culinary innovation of the day awaited: the all-you-can-eat salad bar.

So, Joseph McNeil’s commentary on mid-1970’s downtown Greensboro food is about right.

Today though is different. Today, there are a couple of places downtown who might actually earn a place on The Splendid Table.

Here again, McNeil gets it right. He says “we’re going to make progress sometimes in spite of ourselves.”

I need a good statue – the ones we have don’t get the job done


My North Carolina heritage started in the mid-18th Century. After about 1760, my ancestors are from North Carolina all the way down.

Some of them were slaveholders, most not.

One, from Perquimans County, is identified as the first person in North Carolina to have liberated all his slaves because he concluded that slavery itself was immoral. Another, said to be the largest slaveowner in Guilford County, provided for his slaves to be liberated upon his death. This provoked litigation (to the Supreme Court) contesting his will by his disappointed son. His widow, evading local law enforcement, took off with the people to Ohio.

Others included founders of the North Carolina Manumission Society, secret participants in the underground railroad (a participant as best I can tell, it was secret after all), and abolitionists.

But, still others continued to hold slaves. And probably more than anything else my forebears were small farmers, laborers, teachers, and lawyers, preachers. One was an indentured servant.

When war came, two were Confederate officers: one was killed in a daring charge; another served for an initial term, then returned home to his family in Randolph County. Two more were private soldiers, one of whom spent much of his war as a prisoner, while the other one got trounced at Gettysburg then nearly starved to death on a long, solitary walk back to Edgecombe County.

Others opposed the war. One paid the fee that exempted members of peace religions from military service. He provided succor to deserters and escaped POWs for whom Guilford County was a gathering place. Another was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the Confederate army. He was tortured by his North Carolina neighbors at the infamous Confederate prison at Salisbury.

So, what is my heritage? What monument do I claim?

I am not unusual. North Carolina’s story was never one of united, unreserved support for the Civil War. It was never so simple.

Few, if any of us, tie back to only one narrative — or to a simple, narrow “heritage.”