Scourge of Poverty Target of North Carolina Fund

The North Carolina Fund headquarters in Durham, circa 1968. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

The North Carolina Fund headquarters in Durham, circa 1968. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

On July 18, 1963, Governor Terry Sanford announced the establishment of the North Carolina Fund, an interracial antipoverty initiative that predated and anticipated President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.”

Sanford laid out his course in a speech at N.C. A&T State University in April 1963, rejecting segregation and proclaiming, “We must move forward as one people, or we will not move forward at all.”

The governor and his aides, principally novelist John Ehle, crafted a plan, using nonprofit and federal monies, to promote objectives without legislative interference. Startup funds, in the amount of $2.5 million, came from Z. Smith Reynolds and Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundations. A boost came from the Ford Foundation, in the amount of $7 million.  Over the course of five years, federal funds totaling $7 million, were routed to the Fund.

George Esser directed the effort, with the assistance of hundreds of student volunteers. Headquarters were set up in a former auto dealership in Durham, but the focus was statewide and not entirely urban. Special focus went to four mountain counties, Watauga, Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey.

The project in time became a political target, and while the Fund did not succeed in eliminating poverty, its ideals inspired subsequent efforts and activists.

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Bebop and Avant Garde Jazz Master, Saxophonist John Coltrane

A circa 1951-55 promotional poster for Coltrane. Image from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries.

A circa 1951-55 promotional poster for Coltrane. Image from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries.

On July 17, 1967, legendary jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane died.

Born in 1926 in the small Richmond County town of Hamlet, Coltrane and his family moved to High Point by the time he was 3-years-old. Coltrane’s love of music developed early, and he played both clarinet and saxophone in high school.

After graduating from William Penn High School, Coltrane moved to Philadelphia to attend music school. He made his professional debut in 1945 and collaborated with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis in milestone recordings before forming his own group in 1960.

Though he died at age 40, Coltrane released nearly 50 studio albums and almost 20 singles during the course of his career.

He is perhaps remembered best for spanning genres and audiences and establishing avant garde jazz while also achieving popular success. He was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and a special Pulitzer Prize in 2007.

One measure of Coltrane’s significance is that he has been the subject of at least four biographies.

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

State Treasurer Edwin Gill, “Mr. Integrity”

Gill at his desk at an unknown date. Image from the State Archives.

Gill at his desk at an unknown date. Image from the State Archives.

On July 16, 1978, long time state treasurer Edwin Gill died in Raleigh. Gill was known as “Mr. Integrity” during his more than 30 years of service as a public finance official.

Born in Laurinburg in July 1899, Gill opened a law practice there in 1924 after attending what’s now Duke University in the early part of the decade. He represented Scotland County in the legislature for one term before working as Governor O. Max Gardner’s private secretary.

Gill being sworn in as state treasurer by Associate Supreme Court Justice R. Hunt Parker. Image from the State Archives.

Gill being sworn in as state treasurer by Associate Supreme Court Justice R. Hunt Parker. Image from the State Archives.

Gill became the first head of the North Carolina Paroles Commission in 1933 before serving as the state Commissioner of Revenue, his first financial post, for much of the 1940s. He was federal internal revenue collector for the state from 1950 until 1953, when he was appointed state treasurer.

After that initial appointment, Gill was consistently re-elected and remained the state treasurer for five consecutive terms until he retired in 1977. Under his direction, the state attained the highest possible credit rating, reflecting his saying, “In North Carolina, we have made a habit of good government.”

An avocational painter, he served on the boards of the North Carolina Arts Council, the North Carolina Museum of Art and the State Art Society. He was considered a “respectable” pianist and organist. An avid reader, he collected books and donated to libraries.

He is buried in Laurinburg.

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

Good Times for Ernie Barnes of Durham

Barnes with his painting "In Remembrance." Image from the Barnes Family Trust.

Barnes with his painting “In Remembrance.” Image from the Barnes Family Trust.

On July 15, 1938, football player, painter and all around Renaissance man Ernie Barnes was born in Durham.

As a child, Barnes began to draw as an antidote to bullying. He later developed physical discipline and became captain of Durham’s then segregated Hillside High football team, receiving an athletic scholarship to what’s now N.C. Central University in 1956.

At Central Barnes studied art, but he left in 1959 before graduating to play professional football for six years.

Nicknamed “Big Rembrandt,” Barnes kept a sketchbook with him on the field and turned the physical and emotional violence of the game into paintings. He also became known for depictions of people, often African Americans, engaged in everyday life but with their eyes symbolically closed.

His work is evocative and tangible, fusing elongated sculptural forms of the human body with vibrant color, movement and emotional intensity.

Barnes’s paintings have appeared on the sitcom “Good Times” as the work of the show’s character JJ.  “The Sugar Shack”, a well-known painting, appeared in the show’s credits and later became the cover image for Marvin Gaye’s album “I Want You.”

In addition to his work as a painter and athlete, Barnes authored books, co-created a TV special, and appeared in a number television programs and films, including episodes of “Good Times”.

He died in Los Angeles in 2009.

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

So Great the Devastation in 1916 Flood

Devastation from the flood at an Asheville power plant. Image from the State Archives.

Devastation from the flood at an Asheville power plant. Image from the State Archives.

On July 14, 1916, the worst flood in western North Carolina’s history occurred after six days of torrential rain. In one 24-hour period the region saw more than half of a normal year’s total rainfall. The 22 inches of rain that fell that day set the record for the most rainfall in a single day in the United States.

Because the ground was saturated, most of the water immediately filled streams and rivers, causing them to reach flood stage in just a few hours. At least 50 people lost their lives and the property damage surpassed $22 million, $1 million of that in Asheville alone.

Asheville and Hendersonville were completely cut off from the outside for weeks. Railroad tracks that were not destroyed had their supports washed out from under them, leaving tracks eerily suspended over mud-covered ravines—895 miles of track were rendered useless.

Everyone was taken by surprise at the speed with which the water rose. People were stranded in trees when their cars or homes were overwhelmed and they had nowhere else to go. Industrial plants along the rivers were swept away and landslides engulfed homes.

For most of western North Carolina the 1916 flood remains the benchmark for disasters.

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Tryon Mountain Along the Indian Boundary, 1767

On July 13, 1767, a public proclamation made official a new boundary line delineating the western frontiers of the province of North Carolina from the Cherokee hunting grounds. The boundary mandated that white settlers west of the line should remove themselves by January 1768, and anyone wishing to trade with the Cherokees was required to obtain a license from the governor.

In 1766, John Stuart, superintendent of Indian affairs for the southern colonies, pressed Governor William Tryon to enter into negotiations with the Cherokees regarding extension of the boundary line. Tryon appointed commissioners to conduct the survey and mounted a personal military expedition to take part in the negotiations.

The Cherokees were flattered to receive the governor’s visit and gave him the title “Great Wolf of North Carolina.”

The commissioners began their work in June 1767 at the Reedy River in South Carolina. From there, with the assistance of the several Cherokees, they surveyed a line 53 miles north to a tree atop the peak that the Indians called the “great Mountain” and that the commissioners renamed Tryon Mountain.

It was agreed that the boundary would extend in a straight line into Virginia, but that that portion would by necessity remain unsurveyed.

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

Southern Banks Fell to British in War of 1812

On July 12, 1813, a British fleet under the command of Admiral George Cockburn continued the invasion of the Outer Banks that had begun the night before. Before the day was over, the British had taken Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands.

The invasion, which was part of the War of 1812, was the most serious attack on North Carolina during the course of the war. Cockburn’s fleet included a 74-gun man-of-war, three frigates, a brig, three schooners and several transport vessels carrying nearly 3,000 British soldiers and marines

The British plundered the islands of “200 head of cattle, 400 sheep, and 1,600 fowls of various kinds.” The troops paid the inhabitants for what they took but at prices far below actual value. The Redcoats took customs collector Thomas Singleton’s “papers in his library” and “tore up his law books.”

Though the British took two privateers, a revenue cutter managed to escape their grasp, reach New Bern and alert the rest of the state to the attack. That, in turn, allowed state militiamen to march on and guard coastal towns.

The British fleet sailed for Nova Scotia on July 16, but warned locals that the entire North Carolina coast remained under a British blockade. There is no evidence that the fleet ever returned to enforce it.

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

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