D.G. Martin

The last three inhabitants of Yaupon Island

What do North Carolina pirates and the daughter of Thomas Jefferson’s vice president have in common? They are both an important part of North Carolina author Michael Parker’s recent book, “The Watery Part of the World.” Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia was shipwrecked off the coast of North Carolina in 1812 and may have been taken in by the Outer Banks residents or maybe captured and killed by pirates or just lost at sea. Those are real possibilities Building on what might have happened, Michael Parker creates a story that takes Theodosia through a horrifying struggle with cruel land based pirates on the Outer Banks. In this story, the pirates butcher most of the crew and passengers. Theodosia survives only to find herself in a community of pirates run by a terroristic dictator. Without apology, these thieves draw ships to the shore where they will run aground. They attach a lantern to the neck of an old horse and walk it up and down the beach. At night the bobbing light looks like another ship sailing in a safe area. Nags Head gets its name from this activity. Michael Parker’s fictional land-based pirates on the Outer Banks are as evil and brutal a bunch as you could ever imagine. Eventually, Theodosia escapes to another island, called Yaupon, where she settles and has a family. More than 150 years later in...

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Amendment One to Obama's rescue

Amendment One. Whether it wins or loses, the effort to defeat it could be a crucial factor in a successful outcome for the Obama campaign in North Carolina this fall. Prospects for the effort to defeat the proposed marriage amendment to the constitution are still uncertain, notwithstanding a well-organized and impressive effort on the part of the amendment’s opponents. The enthusiasm of the “Vote No” campaign reminds people of the Obama effort in North Carolina in 2008, both in the primary and the general election. Obama’s general election campaign that year built on his primary campaign, which established working organizations across the state. When the general election campaign began, Obama had an organization of passionate and well-trained volunteers. This year Obama has a problem. Some of those who worked so hard in 2008 have moved on to other things. Some are not as enthusiastic for the president as they were four years ago. Some just say, “I have done my part, but it was a once in a lifetime experience.” Obama’s challenge in North Carolina now is to recreate a hard-working volunteer cadre to make phone calls, keep records, send out emails and letters, and build a get-out-the-vote effort that squeezes every drop of potential supporters into votes at the poll, like he did in 2008.  It is a monumental challenge. You can say what you want about the...

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Hillsborough author’s book is 'superior' to 'The Help'

“…‘The Dry Grass of August’ is a superior book to ‘The Help,’ even if it doesn’t sell three million copies.” So writes Christina Bucher in the North Carolina Literary Review about “The Dry Grass of August.” Hillsborough’s Anna Jean Mayhew takes us all the way back to the racially-segregated Charlotte of 1954 and a poignant story of a young girl in a family under stress, being pulled apart by forces the girl does not understand. It is a story, in Lee Smith’s words, that is “written with unusual charm, wonderful dialogue, and a deeply felt sense of time and place.” More about that story later, but the story of Mayhew’s writing life is also worth telling. She was well past her seventieth birthday when “Dry Grass,” her first novel was published.  The book was almost 20 years in the writing. A supportive writing group read Mayhew’s drafts and redrafts, giving her the encouragement and support to keep going. “Dry Grass” was a surprise best-seller and continues to benefit from favorable critical attention and word of mouth recommendations. It won for Mayhew the prestigious Sir Walter Raleigh Award, established in 1952 and given by the Historical Book Club of North Carolina each year to the North Carolina writer who published the work of fiction judged the best. In making the award, Nan Kester, president of the book club, explained how...

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The pain of losing a town's only factory

“You ain’t never going to understand until you’ve been through it.” Politicians from the president on down will hear this plaintive statement when they campaign in North Carolina this year. It will happen when they talk about jobs and their plans for economic recovery in towns that have lost the furniture factories or textile mills on which those towns were built. North Carolinians who have only heard and read about the experiences in mill towns can get the feel of living through the times of factory closure by reading a powerful new novel being released this week. “Goliath” is the title of the new book by Susan Woodring, who grew up in Greensboro and lives in the North Carolina foothills. Goliath is the name of the fictional mill town near Hickory where the action takes place. The story opens when Vincent Bailey, 14, discovers a body along the railroad tracks near his family’s home. The body belongs to Percy Harding, head of the Harding Furniture Factory, the town’s sole industry. Vincent’s shattering experience later plays an important part in the story. In the meantime we meet a host of characters and follow their lives in intimate detail as they adjust to the loss of Percy Harding and the impending closure of the furniture factory. “Goliath’s” lead character is Percy’s longtime secretary, Rosamond Rogers. Her emotional attachment to her boss...

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UNC professor who writes about the struggle lived it in Chapel Hill

Wouldn’t it be great if Carolina had a professor of African American history who actually lived through the Civil Rights struggles and the desegregation of the public schools? Wouldn’t it be even better if that professor had grown up in the town where the university is located and experienced the tough adjustments that came with her move from an all-black school to an almost all-white school? All those wishes came true recently when Charlene Regester visited North Carolina Bookwatch to talk about her book, “African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility, 1900–1960.” From “Birth of a Nation” in 1915 to Hattie McDaniel in “Gone with the Wind,” to Ethel Waters in “Member of the Wedding” in 1952, African-American actresses made their way into American movies in the first half of the last century. Regester’s book tells the real stories of these women who became stars in a time of segregation and oppression. Indiana University Professor Audrey McCluskey writes about the book, “In this important work, Charlene Regester brings into focus the lives and careers of representative black women actresses in Hollywood across generational divides in order to reposition them beyond the confining shadow of otherness and marginality. The sum result is a re-telling and correction of history.” The book’s chapters titles are a list of the actresses Regester covers and hints of their stories: Madame Sul-Te-Wan: The Struggle for...

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The Primary of All Primaries – Still Not Over

Early voting is under way this week in North Carolina’s primary elections. So far there is not much excitement. Sixty-two years ago we had a much different primary and run-off election experience. Voters came out in record numbers. Today, a surprising number of people still remember that election and can tell you how the bitter struggle divided the state. Many of those who “remember” were not yet born in 1950. They know the story well because it is told over and over again and handed down from political generation to generation, sounding like an Old Testament story of God’s chosen people battling the Philistines. North Carolina historians agree that the 1950 U. S. Senate primary between Frank Graham and Willis Smith helped define North Carolina politics. To understand today’s North Carolina politics, learning about this contest is an essential task. For a detailed version, read “Frank Porter Graham and the 1950 Senate Race in North Carolina” by Julian Pleasants and Augustus Burns, published by the UNC Press in 1990 and still available in most public libraries. In the meantime here are some basics about the Graham-Smith contest: In 1949, Governor W. Kerr Scott appointed UNC President Graham to a vacant U. S. Senate seat. Graham was, for the times, a liberal on race and social issues. So conservative Democrats recruited Willis Smith to run against Graham in the 1950...

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Ron Rash's "The Cove" – Laurel Shelton or Shelton Laurel

Laurel Shelton is the central feature of a new and powerful anti-war novel set in the mountains of Madison County, North Carolina. If I made that statement to anyone familiar with North Carolina’s Civil War history, I would be quickly corrected. “No, you’ve got this name reversed. It is Shelton Laurel, the place in Madison County where, during that war, a group of captured suspected Union sympathizers were brutally executed by their Confederate captors.” But, they would be wrong. Laurel Shelton, the main character in Ron Rash’s new novel,” The Cove,” is a young mountain woman who lives with her brother in a back cove near Mars Hill, the town and the college. It is 1918, and the World War is coming to an end. Although Laurel is young and reasonably attractive, her prospects for a happy life are slim. Both her parents are dead. Her brother is about to marry and leave her alone on the farm. And, the mountain community believes that she is a witch and that the cove where she lives is cursed.  Laurel is shunned whenever she leaves the farm. When she goes into town, people walk across the street to avoid contact and storekeepers discourage her patronage. A chance for happiness comes in the form of her rescue of a man in great distress, near death, and lost in the forest. He is...

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Praying for Bad Things to Happen

Why are so many people these days praying for bad things to happen to good people? And what does the answer to that question have to do with the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare? Here is a short answer to the first question. Whenever things are going bad for our country, it hurts the political party trying to retain control of the presidency. And it helps those out of power who seek to turn out those in power. Back in 2008 some Democrats secretly rejoiced at the economic disaster plaguing the country. Although George W. Bush was not running for reelection, the Republican candidate, John McCain, represented the party that controlled the presidency. Both Republicans and Democrats knew that the worse things got for the country, the better chance Barack Obama and the Democrats had to win. Can you blame some Democrats for wishing for the worst in 2008? They thought a bad economy was a small price to pay for the changes an Obama victory would, they hoped, bring about. Were they actually praying for bad things? I do not know for sure, but I would not be surprised. This year the shoe is on the other foot. The economy is still struggling to recover from the 2008 downturn that helped get Obama elected. Republicans...

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Bookwatch returns with authors who were worth waiting for

Those who missed North Carolina Bookwatch on UNC-TV while it has been off the air to make room for “Festival’s” special programming can look forward to this Sunday afternoon at five o’clock. Bookwatch returns with an encore lineup of books, authors, and characters. It all begins next Sunday with Rachel, the blue-eyed child of a black American GI and a Danish mother, who is the central character in an award-winning novel, “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” by Heidi Durrow. Durrow herself is the child of a Danish mother and an African-American father, whose military assignments brought him to North Carolina. The author’s real struggle to find her identity provided the background for the similar fictional struggle that Rachel faced. But the novel is a darker story, a more compelling one, of a child whose mother loved her so much she wanted her child to die with her. (Durrow will be my Bookwatch guest at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, April 1.) From “Birth of a Nation” in 1915 to Hattie McDaniel in “Gone with the Wind,” to Ethel Waters in “Member of the Wedding” in 1952, African-American actresses made their way into American movies in the first half of the last century.  In her new book, “African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility, 1900–1960,” UNC-Chapel Hill professor Charlene Regester tells the real stories of these women who became stars...

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The Etch A Sketch problem is not with Romney's campaign

“What you need to do as soon as you can is to move as far to the right as you can in good conscience.” A very liberal and savvy North Carolina political advisor gave that advice to the winner of a Democratic primary in a conservative congressional district almost 30 years ago. Why would a liberal want his candidate to move from liberal positions towards a more conservative line? Simple. He wanted his candidate to win. Some liberal positions that helped win Democratic voters in a primary would scare off moderates and moderate conservatives. Unless his candidate adjusted enough to get some of those voters, the liberal political advisor knew his candidate would lose. I remembered that long-ago moment last week as I followed the news coverage of the “Etch A Sketch” story that caught Mitt Romney’s political advisor in an embarrassing gaffe. Eric Fehrnstrom was explaining how Romney, after taking far-right positions in primary contests, could appeal to the moderate voters he needs to win in November. “You hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” Pounce. Romney’s competitors in the Republican presidential primaries and Democratic supporters of Barack Obama raced to see who could pounce on Romney first. Rick Santorum held up an Etch A Sketch...

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