D.G. Martin

Basketball and the small cracks in the wall of segregation

The best thing about the new movie and best-selling book, “The Help,” may be something other than the compelling story and the view into the relationships between white women and their black servants. So what is this “best thing?” “The Help” has us talking, thinking, remembering, reflecting, and reconsidering. It reminds us of friendships between some whites and some blacks that were making small cracks in that great wall of segregation. Like “The Help,” a new North Carolina novel pushes us back to 1963 and requires us to re-experience relationships between whites and blacks during those times. Clyde Edgerton’s “Night Train” is set in a small North Carolina town, where two teenaged aspiring musicians, one black, the other white, struggle to build a friendship over and around the walls of segregation. When he talks about his new book, Edgerton shares a poignant back-story. The fictional black teenager is modeled on a real person named Larry Lime Holman.  Holman, like Edgerton, grew up in Bethesda, a small town near Durham. Although they lived in the same town, Larry Lime’s black school and Clyde’s white school never competed against each other in athletics. But both the white and black athletes hung around Clyde’s uncle’s grocery store. One day they started arguing about which group had the best basketball players. Larry Lime, Clyde and the other boys decided to do something that...

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Dealing with “The Help”

“You-all afraid if we take over we might treat y’all like you treated us. And you might be right.” It sounds like something Minny, one of the characters in “The Help” (either the book or the new movie), might say to one of the white women who treated their African American servants with such little respect. But the quote comes, not from “The Help,” but from another book set in 1963 that also explores the changing dynamics of relations between whites and blacks in a southern town. I will give you that book’s title in a minute. “The Help” and its story of black maids and how they had to kowtow to their white employers has been a best-selling book for more than two years. What explains its popularity? A good story, sympathetic main characters, and evil villains who get put in their places are part of the answer. Another reason, I think, is that it has given whites a pathway to understand, confess, and be exorcised from guilt for their part in an exploitive system in which black women lovingly raised white children while their own children and families were left to their own devices. The book and the movie have not been so popular in the black community. Last year, I tried to persuade a black pastor to organize some older women in his congregation to discuss...

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In the shadow of Cold Mountain, a real Inman

Driving south on Lake Logan Road, in the Pigeon River Valley and the shadow of Cold Mountain, headed towards Inman’s Chapel the other day, I could not help wondering whether or not the Inman in Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain” was a real person. The dedication of a highway marker at Inman’s Chapel that day gave me some idea that somebody named Inman was important enough to have a chapel named after him.   As I neared the chapel, I passed Inman Branch Road and then Frazier Road. Good evidence that Inmans and Fraziers lived close by—and that they were real. Other “Cold Mountain” readers and moviegoers may also wonder about the lead character, W.P. Inman, that strong-willed, determined, and principled North Carolina Civil War soldier and his odyssey from battlefield, to a hospital, and a long walk across the state towards his mountain home. But was he a real person? Charles Frazier insists that his Inman was a fictional character. But he concedes that family stories about his great-great-grandfather and his ancestor’s brothers inspired the novel. At the highway marker ceremony, I met two Inman family historians, Cheryl Inman Haney and Phyllis Inman Barnett. Both have written books about the Inman family. I learned from their books that W.P. Inman was indeed a real person. Like the fictional Inman, he fought in the “Battle of the Crater,” was wounded,...

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Hope for our “contentious and fitful process”

Did anything good come out of last week’s resolution of the debt limit crisis? Well, maybe. But it was hard to find it in those first few days after the last-minute legislation passed, promising reductions in spending and raising the country’s debt limit so it could pay its bills. Crisis avoided. But nobody was happy with the deal. The stock market fell. Standard & Poor’s lowered the nation’s credit rating. Even those of us who do not understand such ratings were forced to accept and understand, for the first time in our lives, that the U.S.’s financial reputation is something other than top-rate. Even more than the loss of financial prestige, we suffered a malaise that came from a conclusion that the political processes of the American democracy had collapsed into ineffectiveness. Not only was there a temporary mess, but also there was every expectation that it would continue. Most discouraging was the lack of any indication that the American people would rise up and demand something different. In explaining the decision to downgrade the U.S. debt, Standard & Poor’s said that it was based largely on its conclusion that the political process was inadequate to deal with the financial challenges. Here is how they explained it: “We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and...

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New books and a new Bookwatch

UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch begins a new season on Friday, August 5, at 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, August 7, at 5 p.m.   My editors let me share with you my reading suggestions. They know that the suggestions parallel exactly upcoming Bookwatch shows.   Because earlier columns have already discussed several books on the list, some descriptions will be short.   The new series opens with one of North Carolina’s most respected authors, UNC-Greensboro’s Michael Parker. He discusses “The Watery Part Of The World,” an imaginative story that blends coastal history and legends with race and other complexities to make a gripping and lovely story.  (Aug. 5, 7)   In “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next,” John D. Karsarda, director of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC-Chapel Hill, explains why efficient, well-designed airports attract economic development and will be the central cities of the future. He discusses the challenges and opportunities that face North Carolina’s major airports. (Aug. 12,14)   Can a retired professor of religious studies write a successful science fiction novel? David Halperin’s “Journal of a UFO Investigator, ” proves that UFOs, science fiction, and religion can come together to make compelling fiction in a most unusual way. (Aug. 19, 21)   Sara Foster’s “Southern Kitchen: Soulful, Traditional, Seasonal” will be the first of several food-related books featured on Bookwatch this season. Foster,...

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North Carolina’s British Queen

Here is a North Carolina history question: Which North Carolina counties were named in honor of women?   Dare, of course, in honor of Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents born in America. Wake was named for Margaret Wake, wife of Governor William Tryon. And then, Mecklenburg, named in honor of the wife of King George III, Charlotte, who grew up in the Mecklenburg region of Germany. German Mecklenburg was part of the old East Germany. There was almost no connection between the two Mecklenburgs until the Wall came down.   Last month in Mirow, a small town in German Mecklenburg, important people from all over the world gathered to celebrate a “Queen Charlotte” connection that binds Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.   Perhaps the most important person there was British Ambassador to Germany Simon McDonald, who reported, “I was puzzled at first to find the place teeming with Americans; until I realised they were from Charlotte, North Carolina.  The delegation was headed by the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of Mecklenburg County, and included the Deputy Mayor of Charlotte …. Charlotte, NC, was founded in 1762, the year after Charlotte became Queen.  Its symbol is still Charlotte’s crown; the Deputy Mayor proudly pointed out that a crown tops Charlotte’s tallest building, the Bank of America HQ.”   What brought all these Charlotte-connected...

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The Civil Rights Revolution—inside and on the ground

Do you remember seeing photos of the 50th anniversary reunion of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg? Aging veterans from both sides of that war gathered to remember together the horrors of the battle and to celebrate their common homeland. As we begin to mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, I wonder if there could ever be a Gettysburg type of reunion that would bring together those who battled for equal rights and those who fought tooth and nail against them.   Unlikely. It is hard these days to find anyone who will stand up with pride and say that he or she fought against the movement for equal opportunity.   A new book by Joseph Howell, who is married to my sister Embry, brought back those times of the early 1960s vividly. His book, “Civil Rights Journey: The Story of a White Southerner Coming of Age during the Civil Rights Revolution” is a reminder to me of a question that must haunt every American who lived through the 1960s and did nothing, or very little, but sit on the sidelines as historic changes rushed by.   The question: Why didn’t I do more?   Howell asks the same question even as he describes how he led demonstrations for equal rights in Charlotte while he was a student at Davidson College in the...

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Fiction tells the truth about North Carolina’s changing rural landscape

We have changed. More urban. Less rural and farming. At least that is what the latest Census is telling us. But the story is more complicated. It is more interesting, too. Out in the formerly all-rural counties of our state, new kinds of residents have moved in. But lots of the old-time residents are still there. How do fifth-generation farming families interact with back-to-the-land newcomers, suburbanite encroachers, and retirement community residents? The census does not give us the answer. Maybe the answer can be found best in fiction. Chatham County’s award-winning writer Marjorie Hudson has given it a try in a new book of short stories, “Accidental Birds of the Carolinas: Stories about newcomers and natives, and the healing power of the rural South.” Hudson sets her stories in a fictional Ambler County, which is much like her own Chatham County. Like Chatham, Ambler is rural by tradition, but growth from nearby cities is expanding across the county lines. At the same time, idealistic young people from all over the country are still moving to rural Ambler to try their hands at living on the land and off the grid. The natives and the “accidental” newcomers are characters who move through Hudson’s stories. In “The Clearing,” a woman running away from a broken relationship moves into an old farmhouse in bad repair. When the pipes freeze, a crusty local...

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More help for farm fresh food eaters

Last week I introduced you to two authors of new food books that celebrate the joys of preparing and eating fresh farm food in season. In that column I wrote about Andrea Reusing’s “Cooking In The Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes,” which, as the title suggests, is organized by season, and “Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen,” which uses a more traditional cookbook approach of groups of related dishes. This week we feature Watauga County native Sheri Castle’s “The New Southern Garden Cookbook,” with groups of recipes organized into chapters on each of about 40 vegetables and fruits. Finally, we introduce Diane Daniel’s “Farm Fresh,” which organizes its information by the geographic location of the farms, markets, and other places to get fresh food. Castle is a popular food writer and cooking teacher who celebrates delicious and healthy home cooked meals made possible by fresh, local, seasonal food. She has packaged that enthusiasm into “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes.” Castle’s book has about 40 chapters, each one devoted to one particular fruit or vegetable from apples to zucchini. She suggests that you go to the market without a shopping list, buy what is the most freshly available and tasty, bring it home, consult her book, and find all kinds of ways to prepare your purchase. Castle...

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Help for farm fresh food eaters—part one

What is North Carolina’s most widely available summertime pleasure that we most often pass by without partaking? It is the bounty of delicious fresh foods that are available throughout the state all summer long. I have been spoiled by the year-round availability and wide selection of fruits and vegetables at our grocery stores. So I sometimes forget how much better foods are when they are fresh from the field, tree, or vine. Then somebody shares a fresh-picked ripe strawberry or peach or tomato. And I remember joyously the pleasures of in-season eating. This year I have help. It comes from four new books from food experts who celebrate the value of farm fresh eating. Each author takes a little bit different approach to getting the food from farm to table. James Beard award winning chef Andrea Reusing organizes her recipes and advice by seasons of the year. Sara Foster catalogues her favorite recipes and stories by types of dishes, from hors d’oeuvres to sweets. Watauga County native Sheri Castle puts her collection of recipes in separate chapters for about 40 vegetables and fruits. They are in A to Z order from apples to zucchini. Finally, travel writer Diane Daniel organizes by geographical location the farms, markets, restaurants and other places where we can find and buy in-season fresh vegetables and fruit. We will take up the Reusing’s and Foster’s...

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