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Julius Chambers — Gratitude and Memories

The death of Charlotte civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers gives us the opportunity and, perhaps, the responsibility to reflect upon his importance as a public figure. Simply put, Chambers’ work and the work of others he inspired are directly responsible for North Carolina casting off a culture of segregation and repression and replacing it with one of inclusion and opportunity.

That said, his passing brought to my mind many personal memories.

I remember the first time I heard Chambers’ name more than 50 years ago. In 1962, as a student at Davidson College, still all male, all white, I heard a radio report saying that a Negro law student at the University of North Carolina School of Law had been appointed editor of the Law Review and had the highest grades in his class. I never forgot his name. From that moment on I understood that blacks could not only be just as good lawyers or law students as whites, they could be better, much better.

Six years later I got to meet Chambers for the first time. It was the spring of 1968 and I was in my last year at Yale Law School when I learned that he had started an integrated law firm in Charlotte. So I decided to come back to North Carolina to knock on Chambers’ door and visit other law firms.

I started in Raleigh where I got my friend John McConnell to introduce me to people in his law firm, Broughton and Broughton. Everyone there was busy working on Mel Broughton’s campaign for governor in the upcoming Democratic primary.

Then, thanks to a good friend’s dad, W. W. Taylor, Jr., I visited his firm, Maupin, Taylor, and Ellis, where I got a warm welcome. But after waiting a long time to see Mr. Ellis, I learned that he was meeting with Jesse Helms about a political campaign, probably Mel Broughton’s.

In Charlotte, my friend, Ross Smyth, got me an invitation to visit Kennedy, Covington, Lobdell, and Hickman. Marcus Hickman invited me into his office to talk. Before we got started, he took a telephone call. For a long time, he counseled Jack Stickley, who was a gubernatorial candidate in the Republican primary. That talk went on for a half an hour before Hickman had a chance to look me over.

Later that day, I walked down East Trade Street. to visit the Chambers law firm in a walk-up office above pawn shops and low-end clothing stores. Chambers’ partner, Adam Stein, greeted me and sat me down outside Chambers’ office. I watched and listened through an open door as Chambers gave Dr. Reginald Hawkins advice about his Democratic gubernatorial primary campaign. After a long while, he motioned for me to come in, and we spent a few minutes talking about his hopes for his law firm and for the community’s future.

Neither Broughton, nor Stickley, nor Hawkins won their primary elections. I returned to law school without an offer from any of the firms I visited.

But the glimpse I got of lawyers and their political lives demonstrated that North Carolina was going to be a very interesting place for me to live and work.

A month later, Marcus Hickman’s firm gave me an offer that led to 20 happy and fulfilling years of law practice with that group.

It took Julius Chambers 30 years to offer me a job. While serving as chancellor of North Carolina Central University, he asked me to serve a short time as a vice chancellor. It gave me the chance to experience up close his determined work ethic and hard-driving, demanding leadership style, together with the quiet authority his service and success had earned him.

For these memories and the better North Carolina he left us, I will always be grateful to Julius Chambers.

Last week’s column got quite a bit of attention. In case you missed it, here are some links to reports about it:

http://www.wral.com/ncgop-seeks-ouster-of-unc-tv-host/12734835/

http://projects.newsobserver.com/node/28142

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/martin-it-wont-affect-the-way-i-write/

D.G. Martin’s 97.9FM WCHL show runs on Saturday and Sunday at 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., noon and 1 p.m, and 9 p.m. and 11 p.m (archives for his show can be found here). You can find D.G.’s WCHL notebook audio here, as well as all of his Chapelboro.com columns here.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.

This week’s (August 11, 15) guest is Wiley Cash author of “A Land More Kind than Home.”

Gastonia native Wiley Cash exploded on to the national literary scene with his debut novel, “A Land More Kind than Home.” Readers meet a storefront, snake-handling preacher who turns out to be one of the most complicated and interesting villains I have ever encountered in fiction.  Reacting to this pastor, one member to the congregation says, “I’d seen people I’d known just about my whole life pick up snakes and drink poison, put fire up to their faces just to see if it would burn them. Holy people, too. God-fearing folks that hadn’t ever acted like that a day in their lives. But Chambliss convinced them it was safe to challenge the will of God.”

The program will also air at Wednesday August 14 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Chuck Stone, author of “Squizzy the Black Squirrel.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/julius-chambers-gratitude-and-memories/

Nostalgia

I picked up The New York Times the other day and found these words in the first paragraph of a front page story in one of the paper’s sections:

“A few times a week, he was suddenly hit with nostalgia for his previous home at the University of North Carolina: memories of old friends, Tar Heel basketball games, fried okra, the sweet smells of autumn in Chapel Hill.”

These words are the lead in to a report on the serious study of nostalgia by Dr. Constantine Sedikides. Although a colleague thought that the nostalgia for Chapel Hill meant that he was depressed, Dr. Sedlikides thought it was a positive. “Nostalgia,” he said, “made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. It made me feel good about myself and my relationships. It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward.”

What made me feel good was that The New York Times was writing so positively about a North Carolina town and the memories it evoked and it was doing so without feeling any need to explain anything to its worldwide readers about what our town was and why it evokes such good memories. It just seemed to assume that its readers already know about the special and positive ambience of our community—something those of us who live here may, too often, take for granted.

Two days later the Times took a blow at the good feelings they had given me about our state and its university town. A Times editorial titled “The Decline of North Carolina” said, “State government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot.”

The Times noted the immediate cut-off of benefits to 70,000 unemployed, the upcoming loss to 100,000 more, and other sharp reductions in a state that “has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country.”

After asserting that our state is making it harder for “future generations of workers to get jobs, cutting back sharply on spending for public schools,” ranking now 46th in the country in per capita spending for our schools, the Times concluded, “North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build.”

Unless things change in Raleigh, that positive nostalgia we feel for our towns and our state is going to have to be only for the way things used to be.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.

This week’s (July 14, 18) guest is Margaret Maron, author of “Three Day Town.”

The program will also air at Wednesday July 17 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Orrin Pilkey, author of “How to Read a North Carolina Beach.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

Bestselling author Margaret Maron usually sets her popular Deborah Knott mystery novels in fictional Colleton County, east of Raleigh, where Knott grew up and now holds court.  But in “Three Day Town,” Judge Knott and her new husband travel to New York City for a winter holiday, and of course, a murder. Maron reintroduces Sigrid Harald, a New York detective who was the lead character in an earlier series of mystery novels. As Maron fans now know, Maron recently brought Sigrid down to Johnston (I mean Colleton!) County to help Judge Knott solve another North Carolina crime in her latest book, “The Buzzard Table.”

Though Maron is proud of her entertaining mystery stories, she is unapologetic about her interest in public issues that face North Carolinians. Her books are set among the state’s problems of race, migrant labor, politics, and unstructured growth. She explains, “The mystery novel is the peg upon which I hang my love and concerns for North Carolina as the state transitions from agriculture to high tech, from a largely rural countryside to one increasingly under assault by housing developments and chain stores.”

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/nostalgia/

Can Tillis Duplicate Holshouser’s Singular Victory?

When former Gov. James Holshouser died last month, many North Carolinians of all political persuasions remembered with gratitude his example of political leadership and unselfish public service.

One Republican U.S. Senate candidate has a special additional reason to be grateful for Holshouser’s example. As Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, seeks to leverage his legislative service into a successful U.S. Senate race, he must be looking for examples of other Republicans who have moved directly from the state legislature to win a major statewide election such as governor or U.S. Senator.

He will find only one example, Jim Holshouser, who, while serving in the North Carolina House, won the 1972 governor’s election. No other modern-day Republican legislator has won a major statewide race.

If you are thinking that until recently Republicans in North Carolina, including legislators, were frozen out of high political office, remember their extraordinary success in races for governor and the U.S. Senate. In addition to Holshouser, there are Governors Jim Martin and Pat McCrory and Senators Jesse Helms, John East, Lauch Faircloth, Elizabeth Dole, and Richard Burr.

Only Holshouser won while serving in the state legislature.

It is not for lack of trying. In recent years, respected Republican legislators like Robin Hayes, Leo Daughtry, Chuck Neely, Patrick Ballantine, and Fred Smith were unsuccessful candidates for governor.

Democratic legislators have had a similar lack of success in winning election as governor or U.S. Senator. Current U.S. Senator Kay Hagan was the first Democratic legislator to find success in a major statewide race in modern times.

How can this lack of success by legislators be explained?

One possibility is that the work experience of a successful legislator does not necessarily coincide with the attributes of a successful statewide campaigner.

For instance, in a high-ranking legislator’s office, people flood in trying to persuade him or her to help them by giving tax breaks, providing for roads or other public investments in their communities, passing laws that help their business or other activity. With so many people courting and charming him or her, the legislator can develop an attitude of entitlement.

But on the campaign trail the role is reversed. It is the candidate who has to do the charming.

The successful legislator has to be an accomplished practitioner of backroom dealing and compromise. On the campaign trail, reports of such dealings can be used to attack the legislator’s character. Voters look for clearly stated and firmly held positions on important issues, not the kind of pragmatic wheeling and dealing that make for a successful legislator.

Legislative service is a rough and ready business. Conflicting ambitions, objectives, and personalities can result in bitter rivalries, especially within the same political party. Bitter rivals can get revenge when their enemies run for higher office by quietly working to undercut the candidate with key constituencies.

Finally, while legislators are usually popular in their home districts, the legislature as an institution is often very unpopular. People tend to blame every bad thing about state government on the group that makes the laws.

Voters can hold a legislator who runs for statewide office responsible for everything the legislature has done. If the election becomes a referendum on the work of the legislature, the legislator probably loses.

All this is bad news for Speaker Tillis. This year’s legislature has made a host of people angry, and it is not just the Moral Monday folks and Democrats. If he loses the vote of every voter who has a grudge against the legislature, he starts his campaign with a lot of ground to make up.

But he can always remember that Jim Holshouser had a lot of ground to make up, too.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch

This week’s (July 14, 18) guest is Margaret Maron, author of “Three Day Town.”

The program will also air at Wednesday July 17 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Orrin Pilkey, author of “How to Read a North Carolina Beach.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

Bestselling author Margaret Maron usually sets her popular Deborah Knott mystery novels in fictional Colleton County, east of Raleigh, where Knott grew up and now holds court.  But in “Three Day Town,” Judge Knott and her new husband travel to New York City for a winter holiday, and of course, a murder. Maron reintroduces Sigrid Harald, a New York detective who was the lead character in an earlier series of mystery novels. As Maron fans now know, Maron recently brought Sigrid down to Johnston (I mean Colleton!) County to help Judge Knott solve another North Carolina crime in her latest book, “The Buzzard Table.”

Though Maron is proud of her entertaining mystery stories, she is unapologetic about her interest in public issues that face North Carolinians. Her books are set among the state’s problems of race, migrant labor, politics, and unstructured growth. She explains, “The mystery novel is the peg upon which I hang my love and concerns for North Carolina as the state transitions from agriculture to high tech, from a largely rural countryside to one increasingly under assault by housing developments and chain stores.”

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/can-tillis-duplicate-holshousers-singular-victory/

Keep Our Grandfather’s Fire Burning

“Everybody in North Carolina should have heard that speech.”

Someone had just heard Tom Lambeth’s recent remarks to the North Caroliniana Society, which was presenting him with its annual award for service to our state.

Lambeth, longtime former executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, used the occasion to talk about some of the people and some of the stories that help define North Carolina and its history for him.

Lambeth acknowledged that North Carolina had sometimes been called the Rip Van Winkle state or the “valley of humility between two mountains of conceit.” (“Conceit,” Lambert quipped, is not always so bad if it is “informed conceit.”)

How did the state rise from this humble status to be a progressive leader in its region?

One of the keys, Lambeth believes, is that its people are determined to do things to make the state a better place, often overcoming great obstacles.  Sometimes, he said, the state’s people “just don’t know they can’t, so it turns out that they can, and do.”

UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government founder Albert Coates told about a farmer from North Carolina who explained his successes despite having no education, “When you ain’t got no education, you just have to use your head.”

North Carolinians, Lambeth said, just will not accept anyone’s putting their state down. Once when a graduate of the UNC School of the Arts in Winston Salem was asked why, with all his talents, he stayed in North Carolina, he replied, “If I am talented it’s because I am in North Carolina.”

Lambeth reviewed the state’s effort to retrieve the stolen copy of the Bill of Rights, which had been taken at the end of the Civil War by an Ohio soldier and made its way into the hands of those who would try to make a fortune by selling it back to North Carolina. But North Carolinians would not be pushed around and ultimately retrieved the copy without paying a ransom. The message from North Carolina: “We will not pay for contraband.”

North Carolinians simply will not be pushed around. Lambeth told about a mountain man who owned a cabin right in the middle of a planned TVA lake. When a government representative came to tell him he must move, the mountain man, sitting on the cabin porch with a rifle, said he would not leave. The government man asked, “Why won’t you move?”

“Come in and I’ll show you. See that fire in the fireplace. My grandfather started the fire and it’s been burning here for 100 years and I’m not going to move and let that fire go out.”

The creative government representative worked out a solution that involved moving the entire house, fireplace, fire and all.

The mountain man explained, “The one thing I was responsible for was to keep that fire going.”

And he did.

Another stubborn North Carolinian was Senator Sam Ervin. As a young state legislator, he fought a bill that would have banned the teaching of evolution in the public schools, saying the bill would serve “no good purpose except to absolve monkeys of their responsibility for the human race.”

Why do North Carolinians have a special feeling for its university? Lambeth told the story of a man at a senior citizen center in Madison County who was wearing a UNC cap. Somebody asked him, “Did you go there?”

“No,” he answered, “but I own it.”

Lambeth told his audience to keep working for a better North Carolina, reminding them of that mountain man who was determined to keep his grandfather’s fire alive.

Quoting the late Congressman Roy Taylor, Lambeth challenged his audience to keep the fire of North Carolina’s greatness burning. Otherwise, “the 
Lord may forgive us, but our children and grandchildren will not.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch.

Next week’s (May 5, 9) guest is Nortin Hadler author of “The Citizen Patient: Reforming Health Care for the Sake of the Patient, Not the System.”

Everyone knows our health care system is in trouble, but UNC Medical School Professor Nortin Hadler is more specific and troubling when he says that conflicts of interest, misrepresentation of clinical trials, hospital price fixing, and massive expenditures for procedures of dubious efficacy point to the need for an overhaul. Who is responsible? Every citizen, says Hadler, has a duty to understand the existing system and to visualize what the outcome of successful reform might look like. Hadler provides a primer and guide to action in “The Citizen Patient: Reforming Health Care for the Sake of the Patient, Not the System.”  (May 5, 9)

The program will also air at Wednesday May 1 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Karen Barker author of “Sweet Stuff”.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/keep-our-grandfathers-fire-burning/

How to save a mountain

There were lots of reasons some people in Avery County wanted to stop a rock mining operation on the beautiful Belview mountainside.

*Tracy and her Aunt Ollie, because preliminary blasting operations had cracked the foundation of their house.

*Faye Williams, whose home adjoined the mine site, because of the unbearable noise and dust; and

*Jay Leutze, a UNC-Chapel Hill law school graduate who had fled urban life to write novels in the peace and quiet of the mountains. Now he faced the prospect of constant noise from the massive rock crushing machinery that would be a part of the mine.

Not everyone in Avery County opposed the mine, as Jay learned after Tracy and Ollie persuaded him to try to stop the operation.

Louise Buchanan, postmistress in nearby Minneapolis, told Jay with pride that it was “going to be the biggest surface mine in western North Carolina. Right here in little old Dog Town!”

He learned that Paul Brown, the rock mine owner, was an influential businessman with many powerful friends.

Avery County desperately needed the jobs that the mine would provide.

The story of how Tracy, Ollie, Faye, and Jay gathered a host of allies to mount a successful effort to stop the mining operation is told in his book, “Stand Up That Mountain: The Battle to Save One Small Community in the Wilderness Along the Appalachian Trail.”

In the end, the decision that stopped the mine had little or nothing to do with the cracked foundation of Ollie Cox’s house, or the noise and dust Faye Williams feared, or the disruption of Jay Leutze’s peace and quiet.

Nor did the decision turn on the jobs and other economic benefits the mine might have brought to Avery County.

The critical fact that made it possible to stop the mine concerned the experience that hikers on the Appalachian Trail would have as they passed near by the mining site.

The rock mining operations would mar one of the most beautiful views hikers experience along the trail.

How and why the opponents of the mine used the Appalachian Trail as the linchpin in their effort to stop the mine is an important part of Leutze’s saga.

That story, by itself, is reason enough to read “Stand Up That Mountain.”

Leutze takes his readers from the creeks, coves, and courthouse of Avery County to the Raleigh offices of state government bureaucrats. Though these officials are charged with administering state laws objectively and perfectly, they are really human beings, subject to error and misjudgment and the influence of those they like and respect.

Leutze’s readers also see inside law offices. Leutze lets them hear lawyers size up the legal strengths and weaknesses of their cases and of the judges who will hear their arguments. Finally, he lets his readers experience, as he did, the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory that come with the clash between vigorous advocates of important but different positions.

What turns this important report of a public-policy struggle into a literary masterpiece are Leutze’s storytelling talents. He introduces characters and tells things about them that make us care. He records their voices and captures the revealing ways people talk, mountain people, lawyers, bureaucrats, lawyers, and judges. He uses those characters to help him tell the story. And he opens himself, writing with passion about things that move him.

With the mountain peace and quiet for which he fought so hard now secure, Leutze can again turn his magnificent talents to writing fiction. The results will surely bring to North Carolinians another outstanding novelist they can be proud to share with the rest of the world.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/how-to-save-a-mountain/

Back In Time, Jill McCorkle's Timelessness

About Jill McCorkle’s upcoming new novel, Lee Smith says it is McCorkle’s “best ever.”

Wow! This news will stir up the enthusiastic fans that McCorkle earned with her novels (“The Cheer Leader,” “July 7th,” “Tending to Virginia,” “Ferris Beach,” “Carolina Moon” and “Tending to Virginia”) and collections of short stories (Final Vinyl Days,” “Creatures of Habit,” and “Going Away Shoes”)

But before we get too excited, her new book is not scheduled for release until next spring, about the same time their publisher Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill will release Lee Smith’s new novel based on Zelda Fitzgerald’s time in North Carolina.

If McCorkle’s fans cannot wait to watch her talk about the new book on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, they can watch her on a Bookwatch Classic presentation at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 13, on the UNC-TV MX digital channel available to Time-Warner subscribers on channel #172 or #4.4.

On this program that was first broadcast in 1999, McCorkle talks about “Final Vinyl Days,” a collection of short stories. Those stories, as I read them again recently, are even more delicious than they were 13 years ago.

The title story, “Final Vinyl Days,” takes us back to the times when record stores were the active centers of our music culture, before CDs, before MP3s and IPods. The people who owned them and worked there were community opinion leaders. Think about Barrie Bergman’s Record Bar in Chapel Hill, or its equivalent in almost every other North Carolina small city in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.

The story’s opener lets the reader know that the popular music of radio and record stores is going to be in the background all the way through.  “I’ll never forget the day Betts moved in,” the record store worker narrates. “How could I? Open the apartment door, and there she is, with two suitcases, a purple futon and two milk crates full of albums. It was 1984, the day after Marvin Gaye died. That is how I remember it so well. I had just gotten home from my job at Any Old Way You Choose It Music, where the Marvin Gaye bin had emptied within a couple of hours.”

How is the narrator going to deal with losing Betts, his girlfriend, who moves out as quickly as she moved in? “I didn’t miss her so much as I just missed.” Or losing again the girl who dumped him in high school? Or realizing that CDs were taking over and these were his “final vinyl days”?

My favorite, though, is “Your Husband Is Cheating on Us,” written in the voice of the mistress talking to the wife of the cheat who is two-timing both of them with a younger woman. She tells the wife not to “let him off easy. Pitch a blue blazing fit. Scream, curse, throw things. Let him have it, honey. Your husband is cheating on us. Let him have it. And when all is said and done, please just forget that I was ever here; that I ever walked the earth…Who knows if I even exist.”

This year our Sunday school class read and discussed short stories that had religious themes or dealt with challenges to faith. Somehow we missed McCorkle’s story, “The Anatomy of Man,” in which a pastor retreats to the heated baptismal pool in his church. In the pool he wrestles with his inadequate understanding of his purpose in life and the expectations he should have of himself as a minister.

“Now as he floats, drifting in and out of sleep, he feels unworthy. He feels like a failure, someone who somewhere along the line has stopped paying attention.”

Reading her stories from the 1990s and watching her talk about them this Wednesday can be like a trip back in time with Jill McCorkle, a trip where we discover her stories really are timeless.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/back-in-time-jill-mccorkles-timelessness/