Lewis Leary, John Brown Accomplice, from Fayetteville

Marines attack the Harpers Ferry arsenal after it was taken by Brown’s forces.

On October 17, 1859, Lewis Leary was fatally wounded during John Brown’s raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

Originally from Fayetteville, Leary was a free mulatto who came from a family of saddle-makers. Leary moved to Oberlin, Ohio, in search of economic opportunity and because the town was considered to be among the most racially progressive in America. Once there, he gravitated toward the growing abolitionist movement and joined the Anti-Slavery Society.

Leary

In 1859, John Brown, a vehement anti-slavery advocate, was looking for men to spark a slave insurrection on the East Coast. Leary joined him enthusiastically. Unfortunately, Brown’s men lacked the resources needed to mobilize local slaves who had not been properly notified of the insurgency.

Local militia held off the raiders until Robert E. Lee’s Marines formally intervened. Brown’s men were unable to stockpile the weaponry or to escape. While attempting to flee, Leary was wounded and died several hours later.

Though the raid failed, Leary’s death was not in vain. Brown’s raid threatened the South by proving that a slave insurrection was possible, and the seizure was lauded in the North. The episode marked the obvious division between North and South, which would shortly culminate in the Civil War.

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Rick Dees’ 1976 Novelty Hit, “Disco Duck”

On October 16, 1976, Rick Dees’ song “Disco Duck” hit number one on the Billboard charts. At the time of the novelty hit, Dees was working as a disk jockey at a radio station in Memphis, Tenn.

Rigdon Dees III was born in Florida, but was raised in Greensboro. He attended Grimsley High School and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in radio, television and motion pictures. Dees went on to work at several radio stations around the South. He wrote and recorded “Disco Duck” as a parody of the glut of disco songs popular in the late 1970s. It was perfect timing for the song, which ended up being his only hit recording.

Dees went on to become one of the most famous DJs in the country, hosting long-running shows such as The Weekly Top 40. He also has acted in television shows and movies, and has done voiceovers for movies, including Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

His many accolades include membership in both the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Radio Halls of Fame and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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Wake Forest Sets Up New Campus, 1951

President Harry Truman helps break ground on the new Wake Forest campus.
Image from the Wake Forest Historical Museum.

On October 15, 1951, President Harry S. Truman spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Winston-Salem campus of Wake Forest College. The president spoke for 20 minutes covering the history of the college and praising the people who made the move possible. A scale model of the planned campus was available for attendees to examine.

The move was several years in making. College trustees and the Baptist State Convention had agreed to move the school to the Forsyth County site during the previous decade, after the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation promised to fund the college in perpetuity if it moved. Charles and Mary Babcock, the daughter of R. J. Reynolds, donated 350 acres near Reynolda House for the campus.

The school’s roots, though, go back much further. The Baptist State Convention launched Wake Forest Institute in 1834 on the site of a Wake County plantation with an enrollment of 16. Designed to teach Baptist ministers and laymen, the school required students to spend half their day performing manual labor on the plantation.

In 1838, the school was renamed Wake Forest College, and the provision for manual labor was abandoned in favor of rigorous academic training. The village in Wake County that developed around the college became known as Wake Forest.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

University President, U.S. Senator Frank Porter Graham

On October 14, 1886, Frank Porter Graham was born in Fayetteville.

Graham became a history instructor at UNC in 1914, but left to serve in the Marines during World War I. He was elevated to the rank of first lieutenant before returning to Chapel Hill as an assistant professor. He secured a full professorship in 1927 and three years later became president of the university. When the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State College and the North Carolina College for Women merged in 1932, Graham became the first president of the Consolidated University of North Carolina.

A flyer that portrays the choice between
Willis Smith and Frank Porter Graham in the 1950 U.S. Senate election in racial terms. Image from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill.

In 1949, Graham resigned from the UNC system to accept an appointment to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat caused by J. Melville Broughton’s death. Graham’s 1950 Democratic senate primary race against Willis Smith has become legendary for the mudslinging and posturing. He lost the primary but maintained a commitment to public service.

Graham became the United Nations mediator and representative to India and Pakistan in 1951, and served as an assistant secretary general of the United Nations before retiring in 1967.

He returned to Chapel Hill where he died in 1972. The 1968 student union building at Chapel Hill bears Graham’s name.

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Gospel Music’s First Lady, Shirley Caesar of Durham

Image from the State Archives.

On October 13, 1938, Shirley Caesar, an award-winning gospel singer and preacher was born in Durham. Her beginnings were humble. She and her 11 siblings lost their father when they were young. She immersed herself in church and family life, and in singing, which she began at age 10.

When Caesar was 19-years-old she met Albertina Walker, a famous gospel singer, who was impressed with Caesar’s raw talent and invited her to join her group, the Caravans. Performing across the United States, she saw the racial adversity that was prevalent in America during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  After eight years with the group she opted for a solo career, giving her the opportunity to preach and to affect change.

Caesar’s many accolades include 11 Grammy Awards, 15 Dove Awards and 13 Stellar Awards.  She has released more than 20 albums and a dozen singles, and she is commonly known as the “First Lady of Gospel Music.”

Caesar continues to be active in the Triangle community, preachingat Mount Calvary Word of Faith Church in Raleigh and has operated her Outreach Ministries in Durham for more than 40 years, inspiring many through her talent and selflessness.

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Monument Dedicated 1923 at Bennett Place Symbolizes Unity

The Unit Monument is unvieled at Bennett Place in November 1923 (the dedication is the day we remember today).

The Unity Monument is unveiled at Bennett Place in November 1923 (the dedication is the day we remember today). Image from the State Archives.

On October 12, 1923, the Unity Monument was dedicated at Bennett Place in Durham, memorializing the end of the Civil War and reunification of the country.

Sponsored by the Samuel Tate Morgan family and the state of North Carolina, the monument is composed of two Corinthian columns symbolizing the Union and the Confederacy topped by a beam bearing the word “Unity.” The inscription on a stone at the monument’s base details the surrender of Confederate troops by General Joseph E. Johnston to General William T. Sherman in 1865 at the farmhouse owned by James and Nancy Bennitt.

Sherman and Johnston met at the Bennitt farm three times during the month of April 1865 to negotiate the war’s largest surrender of Confederate troops. Their first meeting came just two days after Lincoln’s assassination. Although Lee’s April 9 surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House is often considered the end of the Civil War, Johnston’s April 26 surrender of the armies of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida to Sherman is more correctly viewed as the close of the conflict.

Following the surrender, the two generals became friends. Johnston even served as a pallbearer at Sherman’s funeral in 1891.

Visit: Bennett Place State Historic Site in Durham, the site of the largest surrender of the Civil War.

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U.N. Representative Herschel Johnson Advocated Partition of Palestine, 1947

A U.N. Security Council meeting in December 1947. Herschel Johnson is seated fifth from the left in the front row. Image from the United Nations.

On October 11, 1947, as the newly created United Nations debated the partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel, North Carolinian Herschel Johnson was at the center of the deliberations.

The plain-spoken career Foreign Service officer understood that no plan could satisfy both Arabs and Jews but “if we are to effect through the United Nations a solution to this problem, it cannot be done without the use of the knife.” The plan, with the support of the Soviet Union, passed the Assembly by a 33-17 vote.

Born in Atlanta in 1894, Johnson moved to Charlotte with his family when he was 6. He attended UNC and Harvard before joining the State Department in 1920. He served in junior roles in American embassies in Switzerland, Bulgaria, Honduras, Mexico and Great Britain, where he acted as ambassador after the death of Robert W. Bingham and departure of Joseph P. Kennedy.

In 1946, Johnson became acting U.S. representative to the U.N. He followed his service in New York with the ambassadorship to Brazil. A lifelong bachelor, he died in 1966 and is buried in Charlotte’s Elmwood Cemetery.

Johnson’s speech is available online.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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