Ready or not, spring is here and it is time for a seasonal update on new books important to North Carolinians.
This month’s most important literary news is the release of “Life After Life,” popular author Jill McCorkle’s first novel in 17 years. McCorkle fills a southeastern North Carolina retirement facility with quirky residents, staff, and visitors whose encounters with each other make readers wonder whether to laugh or cry. She will be the guest on North Carolina Bookwatch at noon on Sunday, March 31 and Thursday, April 4, at 5 p.m.
Understanding the actions and attitudes of our parents and grandparents in dealing with the system of oppressive racial segregation that confronted them is one of our great challenges. Some of the best Southern writers deal with our past in ways that make for compelling storytelling. UNC-Chapel Hill creative writing professor Pam Durban steps up to that challenge in her new novel, “The Tree of Forgetfulness.” (April 7, 11)
The recent temporary closings of the Hatteras Ferry and coastal Highway 12 remind us that our coast is fragile and unstable. How do we protect it? In “The Battle for North Carolina’s Coast: Evolutionary History, Present Crisis, and Vision for the Future,” retired East Carolina professor Stanley Riggs and his coauthors give the background we need to make good decisions. (April 14, 18)
Vicki Lane sets her popular novels on the farms and small towns in mountainous Madison County north of Asheville, where she and her husband have lived since moving there from Tampa, Florida, in 1975. In “Under the Skin,” she turns her mountain surroundings into compelling fiction. (April 21, 25)
The third and final volume of the “Literary Trails of North Carolina” series establishes Georgann Eubanks as the master guide to our state’s literary history. She has already taken us to Murphy and now in “Literary Trails of Eastern North Carolina: A Guidebook,” she takes us from Raleigh through the Coastal Plain all the way to Manteo. (April 28, May 2)
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)
Do you remember “Big Fish,” the wonderful novel by Daniel Wallace and the movie it inspired? They made us suspend disbelief and go into a magical world of stories and characters. Wallace has done it again in his latest novel, “The Kings and Queens of Roam,” which is full of the magic he uses to draw us into his worlds of imagination. (May 12, 16)
How could one of North Carolina’s most important political leaders be both a progressive champion for education and economic development and, at the same time, the leader of the white supremacy movement in our state? N.C. State Professor Lee Craig wrestles with this challenging question in his new book, “Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times.” (May 19, 23)
In reviewing Duke Professor William Chafe’s “Bill and Hillary,” Jonathan Yardley wrote, about the Clintons, “No personalities in recent history speak more compellingly to the importance of understanding that the personal and the political are inseparable.” Chafe’s detailed study of the relationship between the power couple of all power couples shows how their relationship shaped our history. (May 26, 29)
Watauga County native Sheri Castle’s “The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes” is a guide to finding the best seasonal foods in our region. She organizes her recipes into about 40 chapters, each featuring a different vegetables or fruit.
More about Sheri Castle:
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 entertains her readers with stories about her mountain family and even a song or two. Because I love tomatoes, here are lines she shares from a song by Guy Clark: “Only two things that money can’t buy/That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”
But tomatoes are not the only stars in Castle’s catalogue of fresh foods. For instance, she gives great advice to overcome two different contradictory ideas about how long to cook snap beans. “At one time, most snap beans were sturdy pole beans with thick, tough pods that required extensive cooking to become edible. However, subjecting the newer stringless varieties to long cooking would dissolve them into a tasteless mess. … If a bean pod is delicate and tender enough to eat raw, it needs quick, gentle cooking. If a bean pod is thick and has strings…, it needs long slow cooking. When you know your bean, you know your cooking method.”
They “disfranchised us, and now we intend to disfranchise them.”
It sounds like what North Carolina Republicans might have said behind closed doors while they were gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts to assure their party’s continuing dominance.
However, the words came from a white Democratic state senator more than 100 years ago. Legendary historian C. Vann Woodward used the quote to show the thinking behind the white supremacy political movement in the late 1800s.
Both efforts, the post-Reconstruction “disfranchisement” and the 2011 redistricting, reduced the influence of African Americans in state government.
What made me think about the link between these two events, separated by more than 100 years?
First, an early reading of an upcoming biography of Josephus Daniels by Lee Craig reminded me of the Democratic Party’s successful efforts to minimize or eliminate African American influence in North Carolina politics at the turn of the last century.
Secondly, talking recently to a Democratic former state legislative leader, I suggested that Republicans had gone much further in redistricting to marginalize opponents than Democrats ever had. He smiled, and said, “Oh no, we would have done as much [after the 2000 census] if we had had the tools and hadn’t had Republican judges looking over our shoulders.”
Was there an element of revenge in the modern Republicans’ gerrymandered redistricting plan? It was certainly there in post-Reconstruction politics. Here is more of Woodward’s quote: “One main object was [so] to redistrict the state that for the next ten years not a Republican can be elected to the Legislature…I believe in the law of revenge. The Radicals disfranchised us, and now we intend to disfranchise them.”
As Reconstruction came to an end, white Southerners blamed all their political problems on newly enfranchised blacks and their Republican or Radical allies, which they called “the Negro problem.”
“The Democrats employed a variety of devices to diminish the Republican vote,” according to Michael Perman in “Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South.” “One tactic was to redraw electoral districts so as to disperse black voters throughout the white-majority districts and consolidate the remaining black vote into one, perhaps two, congressional seats. Through similar gerrymandering schemes, they also diluted the black vote for the state legislature.”
In North Carolina during early post-Reconstruction times, black areas were put into separate governing units, which were controlled by the white Democratic-controlled state government. Meanwhile, white areas were given “home rule,” the power to govern locally.
These efforts to limit black participation were marginally successful. But they did not prevent blacks and Republicans, joined by white Populists in a Fusion partnership, from taking over state government in 1896 and dismantling many of these white-control devices.
In response, white Democrats mounted the successful white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900 that finally “solved” the Negro problem by freezing blacks almost completely out of the electoral process.
In today’s North Carolina, the Republican program to disperse blacks and Democrats into Republican districts and crowd the remainder into a very few districts has been, like the white supremacy campaign, successful in minimizing African American influence.
With the shift from a Democratic majority in the legislature and the results of new redistricting plan, African Americans have gone from being a powerful minority in a majority party to a powerless majority in a minority party.
The warning a supporter gave to a new female African American legislator says it best. “[Y]ou’re going into a war where you are a minority in every sense of that word. Not just because you’re a woman, not just because you’re black, but because you are one of the few Democrats.”
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.
This week’s (January 13, 17) guest is Bland Simpson, author of “Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War.”
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.
Bookwatch Classics airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). Wednesday’s (January 16) program features Anthony Abbott, author of “Leaving Maggie Hope.”
Bland Simpson’s new book covers the Civil War era from two different perspectives. The first is that of a talented waterman and captain, but one who was enslaved and badly treated. The second perspective is that of a naval officer who had his own set of challenges as he served first the United States and then the Confederacy. It is hard to see how anyone could bring these points of view together in the same book, but Simpson, has done it in “Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War.”
Next week’s (January 20, 24) Bookwatch guest is Wilmington’s Emily Colin’s author of “The Memory Thief.”http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/disfranchisement-then-and-now/