Lumbees Rally, Klansmen Scurry, in Robeson County

A photograph taken at the clash. Courtesy of the NC Archives

On January 18, 1958, the Ku Klux Klan rallied in a field outside of Maxton in Robeson County to “put the Indians in their place, to end race mixing.”

A generator powered the public address system and the single light bulb that illuminated the speaker’s immediate area. With only the dim light, the Klansmen, numbering less than 100, could not see the hundreds of Lumbee, some armed, surrounding them. The two groups clashed and struggled over the light bulb until a gunshot shattered it. More gunshots rang out in the darkness as the Lumbee routed the Klansmen from the field, ending the night’s event. Police arrested the Klan leader, James “Catfish” Cole, for inciting a riot. He was convicted and served a year in prison.

The incident garnered national attention in contemporary news outlets, including a three-page spread in Life magazine. Several images captured the unfolding events and the aftermath, including a triumphant Simeon Oxendine wrapped in the captured KKK banner. Oxendine was a prominent Lumbee community leader and a World War II veteran who flew more than 30 bombing missions.

In 1967, folklorist Malvina Reynolds paid homage to the confrontation in her song “Battle of Maxton Field.”

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Twins from Siam, World Sensation, Died in Surry County

changeng_full501On January 17, 1874, Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins, died. The Bunkers were born in Thailand (then Siam) in 1811, and amassed a fortune for themselves on the circus and exhibition circuit before retiring to North Carolina in 1839.  They first lived in Wilkes County, where they married sisters Sarah and Adelaide Yates.  With growing families, the brothers purchased land in Surry County and built large homes a little over a mile apart.  For the rest of their lives they spent three nights at one house and then three nights at the other.  Eng and Sarah Bunker eventually had eleven children, while Chang and Adelaide had ten.

After the devastating losses during the Civil War, the twins returned briefly to the circus. They traveled to Europe where, between shows, they searched in vain for a doctor to separate them. In January of 1874, Chang contracted bronchitis and died in his sleep. Eng awakened and, horrified by the sight of his dead twin, quickly fell into paralysis. A doctor was summoned, but did not arrive until after Eng had died. The two were buried in a common grave at the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery in Surry County.

Asheville’s “Old Kentucky Home,” Now State-Owned

Thomas Wolfe and his mother Julia pose on the front port of the “Old Kentury Home.” Image from N.C. Historic Sites.

Thomas Wolfe and his mother Julia pose on the front port of the “Old Kentury Home.” Image from N.C. Historic Sites.

On January 16, 1975, the state of North Carolina obtained Thomas Wolfe’s “Old Kentucky Home” from the city of Asheville. The boardinghouse at 48 Spruce Street was the setting for Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. He renamed it “Dixieland” and incorporated his own experiences among the boarders into the novel.

The property dates at least to 1883, when Asheville banker Erwin Sluder built a smaller residence on the site. Between 1885 and 1889, Alice Johnston Reynolds, who had purchased the property from Sluder, made a massive addition to Sluder’s original structure and began operating the building as a boardinghouse in 1890. A subsequent owner, Rev. Thomas M. Myers, named it the “Old Kentucky Home” in honor of his home state.

Julia E. Wolfe, Thomas’s mother, bought the house for $6,500 in August 1906, and used it as a source of income to reinvest in real estate. Her husband, W. O. Wolfe, disliked boardinghouses and, although he went for meals and visits, rarely stayed the night. The Wolfes maintained two residences, with all the children except Tom living with their father. As the youngest child, Tom stayed with his mother at the boardinghouse.

Visit: The building is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, open to the public as one of 27 state historic sites.

The Original Queen’s College in Charlotte

On January 15, 1771, the legislature passed an act to establish Queen’s College in Charlotte.  The act stressed the urgent need for educational opportunities in what was at the time the “backcountry.”

However, the school, which was to be established under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church, was in conflict with royal authority and the Church of England.

Gov. William Tryon believed that the school’s charter would show his appreciation to the Presbyterians who aided him in the ongoing conflict with the Regulators. The British government determined that it would not be appropriate for the crown to approve a Scots-Irish institution that could perpetuate anti-royalist views in the colony, and the charter was revoked.

The trustees continued to apply for a charter and operated the school under the name of Queen’s Museum. During the Revolution, school trustees sympathized with the colonial cause and many future leaders, including William R. Davie and Andrew Jackson, were educated there. When independence was declared, the school became known as Liberty Hall Academy. It relocated to Salisbury in 1784.

The institution that we know today as Queens University of Charlotte was founded by Presbyterians in 1857.

Black Delegates Had Voice at 1868 Convention

conv68tp1On January 14, 1868, a North Carolina constitutional convention, now known as the “Convention of 1868,” opened in Raleigh.

The convention was required by an act of Congress which ordered North Carolina to create a new state constitution. The General Assembly decided to hold a referendum in November 1867 to choose delegates to a constitutional convention to be held in early 1868.

An 1865 drawing of Parker Robbins in the collection of the N.C. Museum of History

An 1865 drawing of Parker Robbins in the collection of the N.C. Museum of History.

Many former Confederate leaders had not yet taken an Oath of Allegiance to the United States and were not eligible to vote or serve. Chosen for the convention were 107 Republicans and 13 Democrats. The members of the first “Black Caucus” were all Republicans.

The participants of the Black Caucus were not legislators, exactly. But they came together at the State Capitol in January 1868 to take part in a very important process— to expand freedom for all.

The members of this first Black Caucus were: James Walker Hood; Parker Robbins; Henry Cherry; Bryant Lee; Wilson Carey; Clinton Pierson; John H. Williamson; Cuffie Mayo; Henry Eppes; W.T.J Hayes; John Hyman; Abraham Galloway and James H. Harris.

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Birthday of State’s Oldest Newspaper

Edward Jones Hale, the Fayetteville Observer‘s first publisher. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Edward Jones Hale, the Fayetteville Observer‘s first publisher. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On January 13, 1825, the first issue of the Fayetteville Observer, the state’s oldest newspaper still in print, was published by Edward Jones Hale.  The issue announced the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to the nation’s capital.  The newspaper actually dates back to 1816, when it was launched as a four-page weekly paper called the Carolina Observer under different ownership.

Hale was a strong political force and his influential paper had the largest circulation in the state by 1850. When General William T. Sherman entered Fayetteville in 1865, he ordered that the offices of the Observer, one of the principal Confederate newspapers, be burned. Hale had removed his important files prior to the fire, and when contacted about the destruction later, claimed that Sherman and his men “could not have paid him a higher compliment.”

The Fayetteville Observer became a daily paper in 1896. It was operated by the Hale family until 1919. After a few other ownership changes, the paper was purchased by a New York businessman, who formed the Fayetteville Publishing Company. Charles Robert Wilson became the publisher of the paper in its new and modern quarters in 1924.

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X-Ray Experiments at Davidson College

The first X-ray taken at Davidson College. Image courtesy of the Davidson College Archives.

The first X-ray taken at Davidson College. Image courtesy of the Davidson College Archives.

On January 12, 1896, three students at Davidson College experimented with x-rays.  On January 6, 1896, the Associated Press announced that German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen had discovered a new form of radiation. While experimenting with cathode rays, he discovered that mysterious “x”-rays passed through a variety of objects. He put his hand in front of the rays and saw the silhouette of his bones. At the time, many physics labs had equipment to duplicate the x-ray. Henry Louis Smith, a physics professor and future president at Davidson, was the first professional in North Carolina to work with x-rays.

It was actually a group of Smith’s students who appear to have been the first people in the state to perform x-ray experiments. Three juniors professed to having bribed a janitor to let them into the building housing the physics equipment just six days after Roentgen’s announcement reached America. The students placed objects on photographic paper taking photographs, or what were called roentgenograms, of objects including an eggshell with a button in it, a rubber-covered magnifying glass, a cadaver’s finger, pins, cartridges and paperclips. Years passed before the students’s escapade was made public. The original x-ray images are now housed in the Davidson College Archives.

The experiments are the subject of  a highway marker in Mecklenburg County.