Tag Archive | Terry Sanford

Susie Sharp and Her Appointments without Precedent

Chief Justice Shrap in her chambers. Image from
the N.C. Supreme Court Historical Society.

On January 2, 1975, Susie Sharp took the oath of office as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Governor Kerr Scott had appointed Sharp a Superior Court judge 26 years earlier, in 1949, making her the first female judge in state history. As she rode the circuit she encountered the usual challenges, but experienced some unexpected ones, too. In Morganton, the judge’s bathroom had only a sink and a urinal. In another instance, an attorney in one of her trials once began his summation, “Gentlemen of the jury, the presence of sweet womanhood in this courtroom today rarefies the atmosphere.”

Governor Terry Sanford appointed Sharp to the state’s high bench in 1962, and she was elected by the people that fall. Twelve years later, she received 74 percent of the vote to become the first woman Chief Justice in the nation to be popularly elected.

The petite jurist, who served until 1979, was a native of Rocky Mount but lived most of her life in Reidsville. She was at once progressive, advocate for judicial reform and for humane prison conditions, but also deeply conservative, passionately arguing against the Equal Rights Amendment. Time magazine named Sharp one of twelve “women of the year” in 1975.

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Salvage of the CSS Neuse from the Muck

On October 27, 1961, Henry Casey, Lemuel Houston and Thomas Carlyle began serious efforts to salvage the remains of the ironclad CSS Neuse from the Neuse River in Kinston.

The first stages of recovery proceeded easily since the river level was low and the weather was ideal, but ultimately the project would take much longer than anticipated.

Local interest was strong and many people came to the site to observe the work of the trio and their fellow volunteers. Donations were collected from spectators, and anyone willing to work was given a shovel. During the next two years financial support continued to pour in from various local and state agencies.

The ship began to suffer damage from high water, exposure to the air and vandalism making the need to finish the job more urgent. In May 1963, D.C. Murray, a house mover, contracted to move the vessel out of the river and, within a few months, Governor Terry Sanford allocated $10,000 to relocate and preserve the ship’s remains.

The recovery process was completed in 1964 when the vessel was relocated to Caswell Memorial Park, where a State Historic Site was established. Today, the remains of the ship are housed in a museum in downtown Kinston.

Visit: The CSS Neuse Civil War Interpretive Center in downtown Kinston. The Neuse is one of the few remaining Civil War ironclads on display.

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“War on Poverty” Photo Op in Rocky Mount, 1964

Pres. Lyndon Johnson and Gov. Terry Sanford pose with the X family in Rocky Mount. Image from the State Archives

Pres. Lyndon Johnson and Gov. Terry Sanford pose with the Marlow family in Rocky Mount. Image from the State Archives

On May 7, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, accompanied by Governor Terry Sanford, visited the home of tenant farmer William David Marlow near Rocky Mount to promote the President’s “War on Poverty” initiative.

The 15 minute visit was essentially a photo opportunity to launch Johnson’s tour of Appalachia.  There have been questions over the years as to why Rocky Mount was selected, not being particularly close to the mountains, though many have assumed it has something to do with the town’s name.

Though the Nash County family that hosted Johnson didn’t live in Appalachia, it certainly met the rest of the criteria for people to be helped by the president’s programs. Marlow lived with his seven children, his wife and his mother-in-law. A World War II veteran, he suffered from a chronic back injury and earned less than $1,500 per year.

To emphasize the family’s living conditions for the visiting journalists and politicians, the Marlows were instructed to hang a load of laundry on their clothesline and to keep their children barefooted. After the visit, the family struggled with the stigma of poverty. Having never thought of herself as poor, Mrs. Marlow later wrote the president, “We have just found out that we are the joke of a whole nation.”

You can read the speech Johnson gave later that day in front of Rocky Mount City Hall online from the American Presidency Project.

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.