D.G. Martin

We got trouble right here in River City

North Carolinians outside the Research Triangle region (“Triangle”) envy its economic success and cultural assets. But don’t get too jealous. The very success of the Triangle brings challenges that, if unmet, will topple the Triangle’s place as North Carolina’s capstone example of successful economic development. The Triangle’s dilemmas are the focus of “The Research Triangle: From Tobacco Road to Global Prominence,” a new book by William Rohe, director of the Center for Urban & Regional Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. The story of the Research Triangle Park is a part of the state’s defining history or myth, just as much as the Lost Colony or the Wright Brothers’ first flight. You know the short version. In the 1950s North Carolina’s visionary government and business leaders saw the pending demise of the state’s traditional low-wage industries and the potential for using the resources and reputations of Duke, N.C. State, and UNC-Chapel Hill to attract research-related businesses to an open area of worn-out farmland near all three universities. Thousands of acres of land were acquired and, over time, the research-related business filled them. In less than a generation, the Triangle moved from economic laggard to national leader. This “myth” is mostly true. There were a few bumps in the road. Lots of tenacious people fought through roadblocks and disappointments before the Triangle achieved the success that makes it widely admired and envied....

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Hard to find dirt on this politician

Every politician is the object of critical, unfriendly, and just plain bad comments. That is the rule. But retired journalist and biographer Ned Cline may have found an exception. He had to look long and hard to find any dirt on the subject of his latest book, “The Man from Mount Gilead: Bob Jordan Helped Give Public Service a Good Name.” The closest thing to dirt about Jordan was during his campaign against incumbent governor Jim Martin in 1988. His consultants prepared a television ad that showed a bunch of real monkeys dressed in tuxedos but acting wildly. They were, the ad implied, as ineffective as Governor Martin’s staff. It was funny and made an important point. But in the minds of some people, it was tasteless and unfair. So, Jordan quickly pulled the ad. Democratic Party Executive Director Ken Eudy had pushed for more attack ads and told Cline later, “Bob just didn’t have the stomach for that kind of campaigning. He would have been a great governor, but he was not a great campaigner on things like that. I don’t think he wanted to win that badly.” Cline found one other time during the 1988 campaign when Jordan drew a few critical remarks. Explaining to black newspaper editors why he was not more forthcoming on some issues that were important to their readers, Jordan said, “I can’t...

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September 11: Remembering what we thought and wrote back then

Ten years ago, what were we thinking? Here is what I wrote in September 2001: War. War. War. What is it about this word that excites us, that unifies us, that puts aside at least for a moment our selfish preoccupation with ourselves? The word brings with it a spirit of action that rises out of September 11’s time of despair, questionings, and anger. It rushes through my system like a miracle drug, wiping out my depression and lifting my spirits to new heights. A flag banner decorates our front porch. My chest puffs out with pride as the army calls my son to a week’s active duty to help process other reservists who are being called for longer periods of service during this war on terrorism. War. War. War. Oh, what a word. We will fight a war against terrorism. We will find it, destroy it, root it out, and avenge its murder of our friends and countrymen. It is exhilarating and comforting. But underneath I know it is not going to happen that way. There is not going to be a quick, happy ending, no VE Day or a VJ Day, as there was at the end of the Second World War. Even if there is a successful military strike against bin Laden or his terrorist training camps, it will not win our “war.” Indeed, we must...

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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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