Tag Archives: Greensboro

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.”

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A second comment on The Bright Hour

While Nina Riggs’ The Bright Hour is “a memoir of living and dying” which recounts Nina Riggs’ experience of cancer and approaching death, it is profoundly and meaningfully humorous.

I find the writing and the insights to have particular relevance for professionals. Although the book is not explicitly didactic, it is so for a moment. Nina writes:

We contain things and give shape to things in order to be less afraid of them. … The crafted idea does this. It’s why I write. The metaphor does this. … I can hear Montaigne hollering: break it open, look inside, feel it, write it down.

Much to find in this book.

Guilford College president meets with Congress, President

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NC Capitol

War came and North Carolina Quakers were in a bad spot. They were abolitionists and unionists and pacifists to boot.

A bill was introduced in the North Carolina legislature to require that every free male over sixteen years old must publicly renounce allegiance to the government of the United States and agree to defend the Confederacy. The penalty for noncompliance was banishment.

It was a bridge too far. Former governor William Graham, who Bishop Cheshire said was one of the greatest men North Carolina ever produced and who represented North Carolina’s traditions of progress and moderation, spoke against the bill. He said it would be “a decree of wholesale expatriation of the Quakers.” “The whole civilized world would cry ‘shame,’” he said.

And so the bill was defeated, although “not so the hostility” from which it came. “Hatred and malice … fell with much violence” upon North Carolina Quakers.

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Virginia Capitol

Legislation was proposed at both the State and Confederacy levels to provide exemptions from military service for Quakers and other “peace churches.” North Carolina Quakers recruited a committee to go to Richmond and make their case to the Confederate government.

Among the five-person committee was Nereus Mendenhall, the leader of New Garden Boarding School (later Guilford College) in Guilford County. He was “well known as one of the most learned men in North Carolina and a prominent educator.”

At Richmond, they met with a committee of the Congress. It was summer and they met at night outside on the grounds of the Capitol. One of those present said later,

It was the feeling of the delegates that Nereus Mendenhall was preeminently the man to present our case. It seemed impossible, almost, to secure his consent, owing to his natural reserve. Finally, [the chairman] said: “Gentlemen, the Committee is ready. Please state your case.” A dead silence followed. In a few minutes, fearing the committee would not understand or appreciate our holding a silent Quaker meeting then and there, I reached over and gently touched Nereus. He arose slowly, and when fully aroused and warmed up to his subject I thought I never heard such an exposition of the doctrines of Friends on the subject of war.

Later, the group visited Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. Davis received them courteously but remarked that he “regretted to learn” there was a group of people who were not willing to fight in defense of their country.

A statute was passed that exempted Quakers and members of other peace churches from military service upon either payment of money or rendering noncombatant services. A participant in the process said that

To Nereus Mendenhall’s argument, perhaps more than any other one thing, was due the passage of this law.

In later times, some Quakers refused to serve and refused to make payments or perform noncombatant services. Some of them were punished severely.

Mendenhall’s home, The Oaks, was located on what is now NC 68 between Greensboro and High Point in Guilford County. It is for sale by Preservation North Carolina and may be destroyed.

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Nereus Mendenhall

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The Oaks

Greensboro’s greatest citizen of the 20th Century?

randall-jGot to be Randall Jarrell, right?

Here’s proof. There’s this podcast from London, “Backlisted, a podcast giving new life to old books.” It’s these two Brits with a guest talking (fortnightly) about books. (Awfully good talkers. Listening to them talk is like watching real athletes play pick-up basketball. You might get in the game but you could never keep up.)

Anyway, in September the sixth show was about The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell,  author, poet, critic, UNC-G professor and collaborator with illustrator Maurice Sendak. The extravagance of their appreciation for Jarrell made me wonder why we hear his name so little in Greensboro. Maybe we should have a statue of him to go with the O’Henry one. (O’Henry born here, left; Jarrell came here, stayed.) The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.

Name somebody else from Greensboro (from NC) they’re talking about in London.

If not him, who?

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Impressive AG with the best roots: northeastern NC near Tarboro, then Greensboro

Loretta LynchUS Attorney General Loretta Lynch was on the Sunday AM news shows this morning to talk about the Orlando killings. She is very impressive.

Fascinates me to know that her father is from Oak City. She was born in Greensboro.

No real significance to that, I suppose, but still …. More on the theme of notable lawyers from around here. Keeping the compendium complete.

Meacham flubbed opportunity — Andrew Jackson practiced law in Greensboro before he moved to Tennessee

JacksonSpeaking at the Guilford College Bryan Series in Greensboro this week, Jon Meacham commented on Andrew Jackson, about whom Meacham has written a Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography. “Sorry,” he said to the Greensboro crowd, but “Jackson was a South Carolina native who settled in Tennessee.”

Boy, did Meacham miss an opportunity. For two years before he left for Tennessee, Andrew Jackson lived and practiced law virtually on the spot where Meacham was standing as he spoke those words.

Jackson got his legal education clerking in Salisbury then moved to Martinsville, a now-extinct town in Guilford County (essentially, Greensboro), where he was first licensed to practice law. Later, he moved from Guilford County to Tennessee with Judge John McNairy of Horsepen Creek (now also part of Greensboro). McNairy was the first native-born lawyer licensed in Guilford County, and McNairy descendants still practice law in Greensboro, including one at Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard. Both McNairy, a federal judge, and Jackson became leading figures in Tennessee.

Meacham, himself a Tennessee native and resident, missed a golden opportunity to pander to his Greensboro audience in the course of an otherwise excellent presentation focused mostly on his new biography of George H.W. Bush.

Tarboro & Greensboro lawyers at center of the story of Jim Crow & voting rights from start & now

fryeSome time back MidLaw pointed out the centrality of the voting rights laws to the careers of legendary Tarboro lawyer George Henry White and legendary Greensboro lawyer, Henry Frye.

Last week, the New York Times Magazine published a major article, “A Dream Undone, Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act” in which it reported that the story goes on.

The Times put Brooks Pierce’s Henry Frye  right at the center of its report for his role in rolling back the Jim Crow system fifty years ago. But two years ago, North Carolina rewrote its voting laws again and now the North Carolina voter ID law is referred to as one of the “most restrictive voting rights laws since the Jim Crow era.”

gwh-photoAnd, it falls to MidLaw to recall that Tarboro lawyer George Henry White was at the center of the story when Jim Crow laws began in 1900. When North Carolina enacted its Literacy Test effectively eliminating African Americans from the voting rolls, George White decided not to run for re-election to Congress from Tarboro and the Second District. That marked the beginning of the Jim Crow era. White’s decision was reported in a Times article at the time, and the Times printed his famous farewell speech in Congress on page one.

White’s biographer says that the closing lines of White’s speech “were among the most widely remembered and widely quoted lines from any speech by a black American for the next half century.”

This, Mr. Chairman, is perhaps the negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress; but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again. These parting words are in behalf of an outraged, heart-broken, bruised, and bleeding, but God-fearing people, industrious, loyal people – rising people, full of potential force.

book ghwRaleigh’s News & Observer also marked White’s departure from Congress and hailed the new era, quoting a North Carolina legislator to a much different effect:

Geo. H. White, the insolent negro, who has so long represented the proud people of North Carolina in the Congress of the United States, has retired from office forever. We have a white man’s government in every part of the old State, and from this hour no negro will again disgrace the old State in the council chambers of the nation. For these mercies, thank God.

Benjamin R. Justesen, George Henry White, An Even Chance in the Race of Life (LSU Press 2001).

Tarboro’s George White was central to the story in 1900. Fifty years later, Henry Frye was central to dismantling them. Now, after another fifty years, the fight goes on.

The Times wrapped up its article last week by quoting Frye on where we are today:

It’s not quite what it was a long time ago. It’s more sophisticated now.

 

Eggs are legal again, coffee good for you; breakfast is coming back

Hen-Hotel

“Home on the range chickens” @ Masse Creek Farms

Last week, I read that eggs are OK to eat again, and this morning I heard that up to 5 cups of coffee a day are OK.Greensboro Farmers Curb Market

massey 2Friends, we are on a trajectory here that could result in redeeming grits and recognizing bacon as a health food.

The reports I saw did not mention Massey Creek Farms explicitly, but I’m betting that the key is Massey Creek free range eggs , which you’d have to get Saturday morning at the Greensboro Farmers Market.

 

Partisan election of judges has led to assassination plots, cannibals & pirates in NC courts

We have gotten past the elections now, if not their consequences. So this may be a good time for me to say that I believe judges should be selected on the basis of merit and competence rather than elected, reflecting membership in a political party or adherence to a political ideology.

Albion Tourgee

Albion Tourgee

The vast preponderance of decisions that judges make – about contracts, torts, crimes, etc. – have nothing at all to do with politics. Justice flows from judges who are independent, unbiased, able and wise – and appear to be so.

I like seeing judges come from all quarters and without labels. And, on the other hand, I am able to identify idiots in every political party. (In fact, this is a talent of mine, and I can do it on very short notice.)

Several years ago, I visited my thoughts about this on the Greensboro Bar Association, in the context of 19th Century Greensboro lawyer and judge Albion Winegar Tourgée and the judicial partisanship in his day. What I said follows, changed only a little.

Judge Tourgée, was the carpetbagger, radical and crusader for racial justice who moved to Greensboro immediately after the Civil War. Ultimately, Greensboro citizens ostracized, threatened and drove him from town. For a time though, Tourgée, the Republican Party and their allies enjoyed political sway here, and during that period Tourgée was elected to the bench.

Judge Tourgée was roundly despised by his political opponents. In the extremely partisan election campaign for his seat, one newspaper characterized Tourgée as “a shallow-brained revengeful yankee.” Another opined that he was “the meanest looking man it has ever been our misfortune to meet.” Not content with that general observation, it went on to say

The pirate; the cutthroat; the despicable, mean, cowardly, crawling, sneaking villain have been portrayed by nature … in every lineament of his countenance. The mark of infamy is stamped indelibly on his brow in the shape of a large protuberance that strikes the beholder with ineffable disgust.

Still others saw in him “a cannibal, a gorilla, the wandering Jew, a Ku Klux or Anti-Christ” and charged (falsely) that he had served time in a penitentiary.

And yet, he was elected to the bench.

Tourgée’s opponents did not desist in their opposition to him after the election. To the contrary, a plot was hatched to assassinate him in his Guilford County courtroom as he presided over criminal proceedings against members of the KKK. The plot was not consummated, but surely a planned assassination betokens an extreme of partisanship.

Despite all the invective, even Tourgée’s opponents at the bar credited him as an able, fair and, most amazingly of all, an impartial judge.

Interestingly, in Tourgée’s time politicians divided up along generally the same lines as they do today; except, in Tourgée’s time it was the Republicans and their Whiggish allies who advocated for an activist government, loose interpretation of the Constitution and levying taxes as needed to support their activist program. Democrats on the other hand, decried government participation in commerce, supported strict constructionism and abominated taxes.

Clearly, deeper wisdom has since come to both parties and they have re-wrought their ideologies accordingly. But it makes you wonder about the merits of partisanship as a guide to enduring truth.

Now, I am not suggesting that partisan judicial elections lead to assassination plots or pirates on the bench. But … that is exactly what did happen once upon a time in old Guilford County.

Just saying . . .

Lawyers, hummus and sweet potatoes – Greensboro Farmers Curb Market

Greensboro Farmers Curb MarketThe day before Thanksgiving is a great day at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market .  A great day for sweet potatoes.

Greensboro’s Farmers Market was established in 1874 by the City of Greensboro which was then emerging from Reconstruction with a freshly vibrant economy. Greensboro’s mayor was Cyrus Mendenhall, brother of Guilford College’s Nereus Mendenhall.

Cyrus Mendenhall was one of a group of Greensboro lawyers (another was his friend, school mate and business partner, John Motley Morehead) who were at the time creating new civic, business and governmental institutions, one after another. Mendenhall was a lawyer, banker, insurer, manufacturer, cotton broker and an organizer (with Morehead and others) of the North Carolina Railroad. As Mayor of Greensboro, Mendenhall established North Carolina’s first graded schools, the Mayors Court (a precursor to later municipal courts), city streets and sanitation works, free vacinations for local citizens, and the City-owned farmers market.

Today, Greensboro’s Farmers Curb Market is among only a few tax-exempt farmers markets in the country. The IRS views most farmers markets as merely marketing arms of participating farmers, and refuses to find anything other than a private, for-profit purpose in them. But the Greensboro Market has been a municipal enterprise from its 1874 beginnings. When the Market was reorganized recently as a stand-alone organization, Brooks Pierce nonprofits lawyer Bob Saunders drew on this history (and his own legal prowess) to secure 501(c)(3) status for it. One of few.

So, yesterday I stood on tax-exempt ground, in search of sweet potatoes – and there appeared a recipe for sweet potato hummus. As if speaking to recent concerns, this one calls for chickpeas and sweet potatoes in equal measure. (Others may draw the geopolitical inferences.)

Russell and Jennifer Farlow of the Farmers Market and Farlow Farm in Archdale (2062 Ebenezer Church Road) advocate for this tax-free hummus. The verdict is not yet in from the test kitchens. Savory or sweet?

Chickpea/Sweet Potato Hummus

2 medium sweet potatoes (baked, peeled and cooled)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained and briefly microwaved)
3 tablespoons tahini
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
Zest of ½ lemon
Ground sea salt, to taste
1 ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (start with less, season to taste)
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon cumin
Combine all ingredients in a food processor.

Food processors, tools of synchronicity.