Tag Archives: Nereus Mendenhall

Guilford College president makes brave decision, teams undefeated after

guilford_college_fernandes_college_boardGuilford College President Jane Fernandes recently posted on her blog a dynamite note titled “Moving from Safe to Brave.” It mirrored her remarks as a featured speaker at the 2017 Higher Ed Colloquium in Florida, a national program of the College Board.

That post puts me in mind of an earlier Guilford leader who chose “brave” over “safe.”

In the period immediately after Lincoln called for troops, “trouble and perplexity were in the air” at Guilford College and in North Carolina. War was coming. Many Quakers and others who opposed secession were leaving. At that point, New Garden Boarding School (later Guilford College) was full. Nereus Mendenhall was its Superintendant and the principal teacher. But Mendenhall owned property in Minneapolis and his brother-in-law urged going there. For Mendenhall, this promised “worldly advancement and the accumulation of wealth.” And, as a pacifist and abolitionist, he had concerns about raising his family in slave territory.

So, he and his wife, Orianna, packed their bags for Minnesota.

On the day before they were to depart, they went over to the school to close up. But when it came to closing the school and leaving the students, Nereus could not do it. Their daughter Mary later recalled both her parents standing at the library, weeping. Nereus said, “Orianna, if I feel that the Lord requires me to stay, is thee willing to give up going and stay here?” Orianna said, “Certainly, if that is thy feeling, I am satisfied to stay.”

So Nereus and Orianna made the brave choice, certainly not the safe one. They stayed.

Opposed to secession, opposed to slavery, and opposed to war, Mendenhall kept New Garden/Guilford open throughout the war. During that time, people associated with the College often gave food and shelter (refuge) to deserters, bushwhackers and escaped slaves.

Guilford was “the only school in the South that was not closed during the war or during reconstruction.”

From this evidence, it may be deduced that Guilford’s athletic teams must have gone undefeated during that period.

Brave. Undefeated.

The Mendenhall home, The Oaks, is for sale now by Preservation North Carolina and likely to be demolished.

Guilford College president meets with Congress, President


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.


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.


Nereus Mendenhall


The Oaks

Guilford College president charged with possessing subversive literature, house for sale

nereus_mendenhall_the_oaks-16Circulating anti-slavery literature was a crime punishable by imprisonment and a whipping in North Carolina in the years just before the Civil War and The Impending Crisis by Hinton Rowan Helper was the very definition of such literature.

Nereus Mendenhall, the Superintendent (president) of New Garden Friends School (which became Guilford College) and himself an abolitionist, owned multiple copies of The Impending Crisis which he made freely available to others. So Greensboro authorities determined to seize his books and put him in jail. They sent out a posse for that purpose.

But Mendenhall’s brother Cyrus, a Greensboro lawyer, businessman and the Treasurer of the North Carolina Railroad, had learned of the plan and sent word to his brother. More to the point, he also sent word to his to his sister-in-law, Orianna Mendenhall. Upon receiving the news, Nereus sat stolidly in his chair and refused to take any action. He continued reading. No so, Orianna. When she saw what Nereus was doing, she gathered up the books and threw them into the fire. Arrest averted. (Go Orianna!)

nereus_mendenhall_the_oaks-19Mendenhall’s home and Orianna’s fire were on a farm known as The Oaks between Greensboro and High Point out on what is now NC Highway 68. The house where Mendenhall received his brother’s message and the room in which his books were burned are now for sale by Preservation North Carolina. The house was built in 1830 and is an architecturally significant example of a Quaker Plan house. If not sold, it will likely be destroyed.

An Eastern planter and a Piedmont abolitionist — William Horn Battle hanging out with Richard Mendenhall – Wait! What?


Richard Mendenhall

William Horn Battle

William Horn Battle

OK – now I am fascinated.

In Memories of an Old-Time Tar Heel, Kemp Plummer Battle recalls a trip that he and his father, William Horn Battle, made to Asheville in the summer of 1848. Kemp was sixteen years old. On the way, they stopped at Jamestown where they spent an evening with Richard Mendenhall, “an old acquaintance of my father.”

Here is part of Kemp Battle’s account:

Near Greensborough we met an old acquaintance of my father, a refined and educated Quaker named Richard Mendenhall. On parting, he said courteously, “Come and see me, Kemp, and I will entertain thee for thy father’s sake until I know thee and can entertain thee for thy own.” I afterwards found this was a quotation from Swift’s Tale of a Tub.

While Mr. Mendenhall did not keep a hotel, he was willing to furnish meals to travelers at his house in Jamestown (pronounced “Jimston”). My father and I had dinner with him. Some friends had told me that he was fond of testing their knowledge of history. I determined to put a bluff on him. He began by asking me what was a giaour, the title of one of Byron’s poems. I happened to know that it was a name given by the Turks to disbelievers in Islamism. I answered his question and at once plied him with counter historical questions so fast that he refrained from catechising me further.

A nice story. Old-time Tar Heels, indeed. You can visit the Mendenhall home in Jamestown today and see where they were.

But how did William Horn Battle come to be acquainted with Richard Mendenhall? They were an unlikely pair.

William Horn Battle was born and raised in Battleboro (then) in Edgecombe County, a town founded by his grandfather. His family were farmers and slaveholders and founders of one of the oldest cotton mills in the state, which operated with slave labor. Battle himself was a lawyer, banker, judge and North Carolina Supreme Court Justice. He is acknowledged as the founder of the UNC Law School. Conservative at his core, William Horn Battle was the very embodiment of the antebellum establishment. He prominently opposed licensing women to practice law.  Son, Kemp, among other roles, was president of the Chatham Railroad Company, Treasurer of the State, and president of the University of North Carolina.

Richard Mendenhall was born and raised in Jamestown in Guilford County, a town founded by his father and named for his grandfather who settled it. Mendenhall operated what is now preserved as the Mendenhall Plantation. He was a tanner, merchant, and educator. He was also an abolitionist and a founder and president of the Manumission Society of North Carolina. He led in transporting African Americans to Liberia and Haiti. He is said to have been a principal in the Underground Railroad. His younger brother, George C. Mendenhall, was a prominent lawyer, legislator, and UNC trustee. George was a large slaveholder, who formed companies of slaves that operated variously as builders, caterers, farm laborers, etc. Under Richard’s influence, George and his wife transported their slaves to freedom in the Midwest, thereby stimulating celebrated litigation. As a lawyer, George defended abolitionists and free blacks. Richard Mendenhall’s sons were a lawyer, bankers, investors in cotton mills, and leaders in building the North Carolina Railroad.  His son, Nereus Mendenhall, served as president and kept Guilford College open through the Civil War and afterward. Guilford College, when led by Mendenhall, has been characterized  as an “island of moderation, surrounded by a sea of fundamentalism.”

Both the Battles and the Mendenhalls were Whigs and unionists. But, when war came the Battles were ardent supporters of the Confederacy. The Mendenhalls, Quakers, stood aside from the war. Some were imprisoned and abused for refusing to fight. Nereus Mendenhall interceded with Jefferson Davis to arrange legal protections for Quakers and other pacifists.

So William Horn Battle and Richard Mendenhall seem unlikely dinner companions. An eastern planter and a Piedmont abolitionist. Each might rather have regarded the other as a Carolina giaour, than as a dinner-table discussant of literature and history. (Sixteen-year-old Kemp Battle later became professor of history at UNC.)

MidLaw’s theory is that Battle and Mendenhall may have become acquainted in Raleigh, perhaps in connection with Richard’s service in the General Assembly (if he did serve, as MidLaw believes he did).

Or, it may have been that William Horn Battle and Richard Mendenhall were simply a pair of civil, cultivated people, North Carolina leaders, from different backgrounds and with different points of view in what was becoming an increasingly divided society. Old-time Tar Heels.

3 hard-guy comments on real education, not a commodity

Taleb 360_mugNassim Nicholas Taleb wrote The Black Swan and Antifragile. He tweets aphorisms, one after another.

Recently, he emitted more about education. Tweeted he:

“Good students” usually a category of pple [sic] with the ability to focus on details of boring things not relevant to them, pre-bureaucrats.

Never hire an A-student unless the job is to take exams.

Trial and error means you can learn by and only by failing exams.

The beginning of the end. Education, because it became commoditized/gamed/nerdified, converges to useless.

menckenTaleb reminds me of H. L. Mencken, who said

“Education in the truest sense – education directed toward awakening a capacity to differentiate between fact and appearance – always will be a more or less furtive and illicit thing, for its chief purpose is the controversion and destruction of the very ideas that the majority of men – and particularly the majority of official and powerful men – regard as incontrovertibly true.”


Taleb and Mencken put me in mind of Nereus Mendenhall, who said the same things in milder terms but much tougher straits than either Taleb or Mencken. Mendenhall was the legendary Quaker president who kept Guilford College open, with its pacifist and abolitionist values, in the middle of North Carolina throughout the Civil War.

mendenhlllGuilford College, Mendenhall said, should:

produce men and women with well-trained minds and good hearts; people who can think for themselves and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.

The promise of liberal arts colleges is precisely that.

A good college is anything but a commodity. Every independent college should be a unique, values-based learning community – that prepares its students – to think – for themselves.

That is what Guilford College does to this day.

Best education for what is coming – “practical liberal arts”

experiential learningPoliticians are recasting education and putting their chips on preparing students for jobs.

This has prompted lots of commentary by thinkers and writers who disagree. They say:

  • If students study what they have a passion for, they will be better prepared for both work and life than if they merely seek to create credentials for specific jobs.
  • Over the next twenty years machines will take away most of the compensated work people are doing now. Jobs in the future will be different from most of the jobs now.
  • In the future, if not now, the most compelling need will be to know how to manage change, to learn new jobs, and to reinvent yourself, over and over. The greatest need: know how to learn.
  • Compensated work in the future will focus on what machines can’t do. That means kinds of work that are not routine or repeating. For most, it probably means that our work will require understanding and interacting with people. This will include:
    • How to interact & work with others
    • How to compromise
    • How to deal with rejection, failure, change
    • How to know what you don’t know and where and how to find new knowledge and skills
    • Understanding how people & societies work
  • Self-aware people with enthusiasm for learning will be more valuable in the kinds of work that’s coming than the ones who were trained for specific functions in the current workplace.

The best way to get what’s needed looks to me like immersion in a residential learning community. The Internet seems a good way to acquire knowledge and some skills, but guided participation in a community of learners is the best way to awaken and practice a passion for learning and an understanding of people.

The president of Guilford College calls this “the practical liberal arts.” Her vision aligns with Nereus Mendenhall, Guilford’s legendary Civil War president’s vision: “To produce men and women with well-trained minds and good hearts; people who can think for themselves and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

You can’t legislate that. But you can bet on it.

Artificial intelligence at hand; future beckons; what to do?

artint3Last year, MidLaw reported Steve Wozniak’s pronouncement (delivered at an event in Raleigh) that Moore’s Law is coming to an end. The limits of the continuing expansion of computer power are in sight, Wozniak said.

Well, not so fast. Ray Kurzweil begs to differ. Kurzweil and others believe that Moore’s Law can run for another 5 or 10 years (expanding computer power by cramming more and more capacity into smaller and smaller spaces) – and then other laws (or paradigms) will take it from there.

In 5 years’ time, these guys now predict, we’ll have the hardware needed to replicate the human brain. By 2029, we’ll have the software.

In short, as Vivek Wadwha says, we are approaching the time when our cell phones will be smarter than we are. The prospect of genuine artificial intelligence is upon us. It has come much faster than expected.

Some see great threats in this, portending the end of the human race. Others see promise.

I hear that these are real concerns – either way. When I attempt to think at the same scale, I can’t get outside my old boxes. The greatest tool I know that we have for getting a grip on these challenges is to provide a “practical liberal education” for as many members of our little species as will reach for it. And, I am talking about a liberal education – not mere preparation for the workplace. I am talking about Nereus-Mendenhall-style education.

And if you are a lawyer, it’s back to what we first came here to do: “creative, interpersonal, social and persuasive.”

We appear to be heading into a wide-open future. How else can we get ready?

Education in the true sense – is “a furtive and illicit thing” – creates people who can think for themselves

FC9781609382810Greensboro’s exceptional independent bookstore, Scuppernong Books, recently brought Hillsborough authors Lee Smith and Hal Crowther to town. Both Smith and Crowther have just published new books. (The combination of Scuppernong’s Brian Lampkin, Smith, and Crowther – all of them his friends – drew Tarboro publisher Farrar Martin and daughter Mary Marshall to Scuppernong, as well.)

Crowther’s new book is An Infuriating American: The Incendiary Arts of H. L. Mencken. It opens with this Mencken pronouncement:

Education in the truest sense – education directed toward awakening a capacity to differentiate between fact and appearance – always will be a more or less furtive and illicit thing, for its chief purpose is the controversion and destruction of the very ideas that the majority of men – and particularly the majority of official and powerful men – regard as incontrovertibly true. To the extent that I am genuinely educated, I am suspicious of all the things that the average citizen believes and the average pedagogue teaches. Progress consists entirely of attacking and disposing of these ordinary beliefs.

Set that alongside the not-as-incendiary vision of Nereus Mendenhall that Guilford College will:

produce men and women with well-trained minds and good hearts; people who can think for themselves and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.

Are these two views the same as the current vision that higher education should “prepare students for the workplace”? Could be I suppose, if the workplace is hungry for independent thinkers.

Independent thinking is pretty much what’s needed in lawyers. “Controversion.”

Guilford College prepares independent thinkers who are practiced at collaboration. Now, that’s what the workplace needs.

Eat your heart out, H.L.

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.

The future, it’s great – if you have a liberal education, are a lawyer

I love the future. It is so nice there.future

Credible thinkers are predicting a future, not all that far off, in which energy will be nearly free, clean and unlimited. Machines will do most of  the work and much of the thinking and creating. The word is Abundance.

Literally, these thinkers are saying that energy from the Sun will fuel your car at almost no cost; and you won’t need to drive because a machine will do that for you. That’s coming in about 20 years. These are serious people. They are serious about this.

Why don’t we just go with it? Let’s go to the beach.

I think it’s easy to see that this is a future that is going to require a liberal education – and lots of lawyers. We’re going to need citizens with what Nereus Mendenhall called “well trained minds and good hearts.”