George Watts Hill, Tar Heel in Cloak

On October 27, 1901, George Watts Hill was born to a prosperous family in Durham. The newborn would inherit wealth, commanding a fortune earned in banking, and over time would demonstrate an abiding sense of devotion to his country.


George Watts Hill

The gathering storms of war in 1939 roused alarm in Watts Hill and led to his involvement in the secret war against Hitler. In the face of neutrality advocates, he signed onto “A Summons to Speak Out” and enlisted the support of three dozen Tar Heel businessmen, educators and journalists on behalf of intervention in Europe. In March 1942, he joined what soon became known as the Office of Strategic Services.

Hill’s administrative experience made him invaluable to the OSS’s “Wild Bill” Donovan who placed him in charge of the camouflage unit and devices central to the work of spies, such as disguises, fake uniforms and passports and listening equipment. After the war Hill returned to banking but also played roles in health care reform, desegregation and, as a UNC trustee, the overturn of the Speaker Ban.   In 1984 Hill received the North Carolina Award for Public Service.  He died in 1993, the year that UNC named its alumni center for him.

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James H. Young, African American Leader in 1890s

On October 26, 1858, James H. Young was born into slavery near Henderson. Thanks in large measure to his father’s emphasis on education, Young was hired to work in the office of Colonel J. J. Young, an internal revenue collector. While working in the office, he became involved with the Republican Party.young1

An industrious worker, Young was selected for multiple government patronage positions. As owner and editor of the Raleigh Gazette, the principal voice of black politics in North Carolina in the 1890s, Young became involved in the movement to merge the Republicans and Populists and became a central figure in the resulting Fusion movement. He was elected to the state legislature from Wake County in 1894 and 1896.

A lifelong advocate for equality and reform, Young succeeded in getting the Raleigh city charter amended to better represent the African American community and played a pivotal role in the election of Governor Daniel L. Russell. The Republican governor appointed Young colonel of a black regiment during the Spanish American War.

After the white supremacy campaign of 1898, Young and other prominent black politicians were prevented from participating in state politics. He spent the remaining years of his life working as a federal revenue collector and running private businesses, and he died in 1921.

A historical marker about Young stands in downtown Raleigh.

Durham’s Malcolm X Liberation University

On October 25, 1969, the Malcolm X Liberation University opened in Durham. Founded by black activist Howard Fuller and named for then recently-slain civil rights leader Malcolm X, the school was founded in response to protests by students at Duke University over the lack of an African American studies program there. The school was first housed in what was once a hosiery mill on Pettigrew Street.

An image of Malcom X Liberation University in Durham courtesy of Open Durham

An image of Malcom X Liberation University in Durham, courtesy of Open Durham

In its first year, the university had 12 students and 40 teachers. The curriculum expressly focused on meeting the needs of black students to further the cause of the black liberation movement. In a two-year program, students took courses on the history of Africa, slavery and colonialism and then received technical training to prepare for careers that focused on civil rights.

The school struggled financially despite some strong initial support from the Episcopal Church. It moved to Greensboro in 1970, leaving a small presence in Durham, and closed its doors in 1973. Fuller later attributed the school’s failure to an overemphasis on Africa as an important factor in the lives of American blacks.

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Wrights Experiment with Gliders, 1911

On October 24, 1911, Orville Wright set a world soaring record of nine minutes and 45 seconds of unpowered flight on the Outer Banks. Famous for the first powered flight in a heavier-than-air craft with his brother Wilbur in 1903, Orville Wright returned to Kitty Hawk after nearly eight years to conduct more experiments with flight. This time he was accompanied by one of his other brothers, Lorin; his nephew, Horace; and a friend who also served as the pilot during the experiments.

A full-scale reproduction of the glider that Orville Wright and British aviator Alexander Ogilvie flew at Kill Devil Hills in 1911 now soars inside the entrance at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.

A full-scale reproduction of the glider that Orville Wright and British aviator Alexander Ogilvie flew at Kill Devil Hills in 1911 now soars inside the entrance at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.

The 1911 attempts were different from the more famous 1903 ones in that they were with a non-powered glider. Since the Wrights had already shown that powered flight was possible, the tests were more focused on safety and were designed to try out new equipment; the new equipment ultimately had to stay under wraps because newspaper reporters came out to watch the experiments every day they were conducted.

Between October 16 and 26, Wright made nearly 100 glides. Most of them were made into winds 35 miles per hour or faster. The record-breaking, nearly 10-minute glide was into 50 mile-per-hour winds and did not reach the 120-foot distance that the powered flight had made earlier. The record would stand internationally until 1921.

Baron von Graffenreid and the Swiss Colony of New Bern

Image of von Graffenreid courtesy Tryon Palace.

Image of von Graffenreid courtesy Tryon Palace.

On October 23, 1711, Baron Christoph von Graffenreid, founder of the Swiss colony of New Bern, penned a lengthy description of his capture by the Tuscarora Indians.

In mid-September of that year, von Graffenreid and John Lawson led a surveying expedition up the Neuse River. Lawson was the Surveyor General of the colony and was well-known to the Indians. When the Indians discovered the party in their territory, and unannounced to their leader King Hancock, they captured the men and took them to the Tuscarora village of Catechna, near present-day Grifton.

The Indians were angry over encroachment on their lands and they believed the surveying party was out to take more.  Graffenreid was spared, but Lawson was executed.  Held at the village for several weeks, von Graffenreid, bargained for the safety of the New Bern colony. Nevertheless the Tuscarora, in alliance with other aggravated tribes, attacked settlements on the Pamlico, Neuse and Trent Rivers, and in the Core Sound region in what would become known as the Tuscarora War.

After his release from the Tuscarora, von Graffenreid wrote his account of the ordeal in order to explain Lawson’s fate and to clarify the promises that he made to the Indians during his capture.

A drawing of von Graffenreid and John Lawson under capture by the Tuscurora. This drawing is sometimes attributed to von Graffenreid.

After his release from the Tuscarora, von Graffenreid wrote his account of the ordeal in order to explain Lawson’s fate and to clarify the promises that he made to the Indians during his capture.

Painter Elliott Daingerfield of Fayetteville, Blowing Rock and NYC

On October 22, 1932, painter Elliott Daingerfield died at age 73 in New York and was buried in Cross Creek Cemetery in Fayetteville, portrait-daingerfield-september1where he was raised. Daingerfield left for New York when he turned 21 to apprentice at the National Academy of Design. He joined the Holbein Studios in 1884 where he was influenced the naturalist Barbizon School technique and by artist George Inness.

Recuperating from diphtheria in Blowing Rock in 1886, Daingerfield began painting the surrounding mountains, and built three homes, one of which, “Westglow,” today operates as a spa and is open to the public.

Daingerfield returned to the northeast and taught composition at the Philadelphia School of Design and the Art Students League in New York City. He received the National Academy of Design Clark Prize for the best figure composition in 1902, and traveled in the southwest under commission by the Santa Fe Railroad Company, painting the Grand Canyon in 1911.

His work is noted for capturing the light and mood of various scenes, and is now featured in some of leading museums of the South and the nation, including the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Smithsonian American Museum Art in Washington, D.C..

Tom Dula: Poor Boy Was Bound to Die

On October 21, 1866, Tom Dula was convicted of the murder of Laura Foster.  It was at daybreak that the jury returned the verdict in the Iredell County Courthouse, where it had been moved from Wilkes County.  The jury had not received their orders from the judge until about midnight the night before. dulathomas2They deliberated during the night.  The defense moved for an arrest of judgment, which was overruled and the judge pronounced sentence: that Thomas Dula be hanged by the neck until dead on November 9, 1866.  Former Governor Zebulon B. Vance represented Dula pro bono.

Speculation abounded as to Vance’s reasons for taking the case, one of the few he ever lost before a jury. Regardless of his motives, he gave a spirited defense and succeeded in twice taking the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court.  The crowds of spectators and reporters that appeared in the courtroom were as likely there to see the charismatic Vance as they were to hear the sensational testimony.  Ultimately, however, the High Court upheld the conviction and Dula was hanged for the crime in May 1868.