The Raleigh City Museum is re-opening its standing Civil Rights exhibit with a month of special events. Let Us March On: Raleigh's Journey Toward Civil Rights has undergone a major redesign and includes new photos and information. On February 18, Joe Holt, the first African American student to try to integrate Raleigh schools, will share his documentary, “Exhausted Remedies: Joe Holt’s Story” and hold a Q&A session.
In 2004, to mark the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated schools, former N&O writer Tim Simmons revisited Holt's story.
In the recent history of Atlanta, William "Bill" Campbell is a former mayor. But in school board minutes of 1960, he is a 7-year-old boy -- the first black child to attend a white school in Raleigh.
It wasn't for lack of trying that Joseph Holt Jr. didn't precede Campbell by several years.
Holt was 13 years old in the summer of 1956 when his parents tried to send him to ninth grade at the all-white Daniels Junior High School. The Raleigh school board, apparently caught by surprise, rejected the application, saying it came too late to be considered.
"When our photo was put in the paper, it sent shock waves through the community, especially the black community, " said Holt, 60, a retired Air Force officer who tutors at Shaw University. "After that, the pressure was enormous."
Holt's parents applied again in 1957, this time to have Joe attend Broughton High School as a 10th-grader. Again, the board rejected the application, saying the transfer wasn't in his best interest.
The family filed suit in federal court, only to lose the first round in 1958. The court ruled that the district could reject the application because the family sent a lawyer to its transfer hearing instead of attending in person.
Looking back over 50 years of history, Holt can see there was no way Raleigh schools would enroll a black child in 1956.
Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that the doctrine of "separate but equal" had no place in America's schools, it did not say how towns should resolve the inequities. Those looking to the federal government for help found no guidance, particularly not from President Dwight Eisenhower, who pointedly refused to say whether he approved of the court's ruling.
By 1955, when the Supreme Court said states must integrate their schools "with all deliberate speed, " many lawmakers chose to focus on "deliberate" rather than "speed." That was especially true in the North Carolina General Assembly, which met just a few miles from Joe Holt's home.
Looking for a way to preserve segregation without defying the courts, Gov. Luther Hodges helped guide legislation that relieved the state and local school districts from the responsibility of integration by requiring that parents request transfers. Boards then rejected the requests for a variety of reasons that officially had nothing to do with race.
The state offered private school tuition vouchers to parents who did not want their children to attend integrated schools. It also allowed communities to close schools by public referendum if desegregation occurred.
If those messages weren't clear enough to black families, those who knew the Holts also understood the issue on a personal level. It wasn't long before Joe Holt Sr. was demoted and then fired from his job at a local warehouse.
Freedom of choice
By the time Bill Campbell enrolled at Murphey School, a handful of school boards were claiming integration by granting small numbers of transfer requests.
Sometimes called "freedom-of-choice" assignments, the transfers were considered only if families asked. Routinely, school administrators screened applicants in visits to their homes.
In Raleigh the task often fell to Fred Carnage, the city's only black school board member of that era.
"Basically, a family needed a recommendation from Mr. Carnage before they would be considered, " said Sylvia Ruby, a white woman who was active in the League of Women Voters during the 1950s and later served on the Wake school board. "This kept things gradual, which was the only way any integration was going to occur in the city." -- The News & Observer 5/2/2004
Ten years after the Holt family's case, Joe was in the news once again, this time as a hero. A member of the Military Airlift Command based at McGuire AFB, he "helped bring a crippled C-130 Hercules in for a safe landing in the Philippines after a tense 2 1/2-hour trip and a series of inflight emergencies over the South China Sea."-- The Raleigh Times 11/29/1967
Students protest in front of Raleigh Public School offices on Devereux Street. N&O File Photo
Visitors to the NC Museum of History who view the workshop of inventor David Marshall "Carbine" Williams get only a glimpse of the colorful character who died 37 years ago this month.
Raleigh Times staff writer D.I. Strunk described some of the story in Williams' obituary.
He was a colorful backwoods man turned inventor-genius. But he also was a man who lost his freedom and then regained it, in a sense, with guns.
In 1940, in 14 days, he developed the weapon that became the M-1 Carbine. He was honored by the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who praised the weapon Williams invented as "one of our strongest contributing factors to our victory in the Pacific."
It was a life that grew out of a large family of 11 children on a plantation in the backwoods country close to Godwin. But the first crucial event in Willams' life came when he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of a sheriff's deputy during a raid on Williams' still.
He served his time in Caledonia State Prison, where he made his first real gun, a .22 rifle. He made the gunstock by hand from a walnut fence post and the barrel from a discarded Ford axle.
It was an improvement over the guns he had fashioned as a boy on his father's farm.
Those early guns were made from the reeds that people also used as fishing poles. He would wind his mother's sewing thread around the reed give it a coat of shellac and repeat the process several times until the gun barrel was made.
He would whittle the stock out of juniper wood and fasten the firing hammer to the stock by a shingle nail. It all operated by rubber bands.
His fascination with guns continued to grow. After quitting school in the seventh grade, he began to roam.
At 15 he lied about his age and joined the Navy. He was discharged, but his military experience inspired him to enroll in a military institute in Virginia.
This soon palled and, at 17, he married his school sweetheart, Margaret Isabella Cook, and took a job on the old Atlantic Coast Line railroad as a section hand.
But the railroad paid only $1.40 a day, and he quit after a year to become a bootlegger.
Then, on the morning of July 22, 1921, came the sheriff's raid on his still in Cumberland County and the killing of the deputy. To his dying day, Williams denied he killed him.
Initially, Williams was far from a model prisoner. He gained a bad reputation from several attempts to escape. He was sent to Caledonia and there met the man who provided the turning point of his life.
That man was Capt. H.T. Peoples, in charge of Caledonia prison, who encouraged and helped Williams in his experimental work with rifles.
His work eventually gained attention in the press. In September of 1929, four years after developing a .30 caliber rapid-fire rifle that was a forerunner of the Carbine, Williams was pardoned by Gov. Angus W. McLean.-- The Raleigh Times 1/8/1975
Carbine Williams describes prison conditions in the 1920s.
Williams became something of a folk hero, especially after the release of the movie. This 1952 press release breathlessly described its local premiere.
David Marshall Williams of Autreyville will return to Central Prison tomorrow.
This visit will be a lot different from the one he made 31 years ago, however. On November 21, 1921, Williams -- then 21 years old -- walked through Central Prison's gates on the losing end of a 30-year sentence for second degree murder. Tomorrow "Carbine" Williams, a millionaire inventor, will walk through those same prison gates as the hero of a story that makes Horatio Alger's yarns sound about as exciting as a Mother Goose rhyme.
Williams will be on hand ... for a special showing of the M-G-M motion picture of his life. The picture was premiered at Fayetteville last night, and tomorrow's showing to North Carolina "big house" occupants will be the second.
The picture tells how Williams was making the best corn liquor in Cumberland County when a raiding party paid his still a visit. In the ensuing row, a revenuer was killed, and Williams -- protesting his innocence -- was convicted of the death and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Williams served part of his time at Central Prison, while now Assistant Prisons Director H.H. Honeycutt was assistant warden there. Then he was transferred to Caledonia Prison Farm, where Captain H.T. Peoples let him design his famous carbine while working in the blacksmith shop. Williams ... had his sentence commuted ... and walked out of prison a free man on September 29, 1929.
Arms manufacturers gobbled up Williams' patents and ideas, particularly that of his rapid-fire, lightweight carbine. Uncle Sam was interested, too -- so much that some 8,000,000 of Williams' carbines were used in World War II and now is the most widely-used weapon by United Nation forces in Korea.
Williams became wealthy, but his story remained untold until his son came home one day wanting to know if it was true he had been in prison. The inventor called in his old friend, Captain Peoples, to tell the story to his son. Fayetteville writer-photographer Fay Ridenhour heard and wrote about "Carbine" Williams for a nationally -circulated magazine, then Hollywood and M-G-M stepped in.
The result is the picture "Carbine Williams" starring Jimmy Stewart... which will be shown at central Prison to the prisoners tomorrow afternoon.
Invited guests for the prison showing of the picture include Captain Peoples, who played a leading role in the rehabilitation of Williams; Assistant Prisons Director Honeycutt, and, of course, Williams.
Tomorrow, when he walks through the Central Prison gates, David Marshall Williams ... undoubtedly will remember a trip through the big house gates 31 years ago when he was Convict No. 17758 with 30 years to go.-- release by NC State Highway and Public Works Commission
In 1971, Williams' workshop and part of his firearms collection were donated to the state history museum. The General Assembly honored him in a joint resolution congratulating him "for overcoming misfortunes which might have broken weaker men."
Photos courtesy of NC State Archives
But Williams' life continued to be controversial. He died at Dorothea Dix Hospital in 1975, having been a patient in the geriatrics ward there since 1972. Following his death, a Hollywood actress claimed to have been his mistress in the 1950s and threatened to publish a book about him, which Mrs. Williams criticized as "a smutty idea." The family of Al Pate, the sheriff's deputy Williams was convicted of killing, continued to resent the notoriety Williams enjoyed in his later years.
The battle was significant because Fort Fisher protected the port of Wilmington and allowed blockade running on the Cape Fear River. Its fall in 1865 cut the "Lifeline of the Confederacy" and led to the occupation of Wilmington by Union troops.
As the 100th anniversary of the battle neared, a project began to restore the fort. "The big sand installation, the largest earthen defense works in the South, was the key to the port of Wilmington and with it went the last hope of supplying the dying Confederacy." A.L. Honeycutt, historic site specialist for the Department of Archives and History, relayed some of its history.
The movement to make the fort a State Park or National Park originated with the local citizens of New Hanover County in the early thirties. The movement after little success died completely with World War II, as the fort once again became an active military post. Many of the old earthen batteries served as machine gun nests, and today some of the remains of the nests can be seen with fragments of their protective sandbags. It was during this period that a section of the land defense had to be leveled by bulldozers in order to construct a landing strip for airplanes.
After the war the sit was deserted by the United States Army. Soon a jungle of live oaks and yaupons grew to cover the area, thus completely hiding the outline of the remaining mounds of the old fort. The visitor was left with little to stimulate the imagination in re-enacting the massive earthen works and the heroic battles which occurred at Fort Fisher.
Construction of earthen works on Confederate Point began in April of 1861. During the first year a series of batteries was built and 17 guns were mounted. The place was named Fort Fisher in honor of Colonel Charles F. Fisher of Salisbury, who was killed at the battle of First Manassas while commanding North Carolina's Sixth Regiment.
Two largest land-sea battles in history until that time took place at Fort Fisher on December 24-25 1864, and January 13-15, 1865. During the first battle fifty Federal warships and three monitors mounting 500 guns were engaged against it. The Federals sent a land force to assault the fort, but the Union commander decided the works were too strong to carry. The Federals withdrew to Beaufort.
On January 13, 1865, the federals returned with a fleet of 58 warships and an array of 10,000 men. After continuous bombardment day and night from the 13th to the 15th the Federals assaulted the fort and a fierce hand-to-hand battle ensued. The Confederates surrendered the for at 10:00 p.m. Sunday, January 15, 1865.
With the fall of Fort Fisher the Confederates abandoned the Lower Cape Fear River fortifications ... and a month later Wilmington, the last southern port open to blockade running, fell. General Lee had sent ... word that he could not subsist the Army of Northern Virginia unless Fisher and the port of Wilmington were held. Three months later Lee abandoned Richmond and the end came for the Confederacy.
Fort Fisher is well documented with maps, detailed scale drawings, and photographs made by the federal forces a few days after the fort was captured in 1865. These make vivid exhibit items as well as being the best possible guides for restoration.-- The News & Observer 1/14/1961
The restoration of Fort Fisher included a $100,000 visitor center-museum, which was dedicated by Governor Dan K. Moore in August 1965.
Col. Fisher's sword was presented at [the] dedication program by Mrs. R. R. Stone and Cornelius M. Dickinson-Thomas.
Also presented were the gun of Confederate Sgt. John W. West, who used it in the second fight at the fort, and a small table, used as a desk by Maj. Gen. W. H. C. Whiting during the two battles. -- The News & Observer 8/12/1965.
The Raleigh Civil War Roundtable will host Civil War scholar Edwin C. Bearss Saturday January 14 at 11:30 at the North Carolina Museum of History. Bearss served as chief historian of the National Park Service and was featured in Ken Burns' PBS series, "The Civil War," and A&E's "Civil War Journal." His presentation will be Vicksburg & Gettysburg: The Campaigns that Changed the Civil War. Tickets are $10. Contact David June at email@example.com for more information.
Seventy-five years ago today, ground was broken for Raleigh's new Ambassador Theater. Ambassador Josephus Daniels did the honors. The theater was a showplace for years, but it went the way of many downtown theaters in the 1970s, a fate worsened by the conversion of Fayetteville Street to a pedestrian mall.
On the eve of its 1989 demolition, former N&O writer Judy Bolch reminded readers of the theater's better days.
She was the Ambassador Theater, the last of Raleigh's old-time movie houses. She closed in June 1979 after years of declining health. But nobody ever got around to a funeral.
The lady's luck has run out.
Raleigh will be the only major North Carolina city that has lost all its downtown theaters.
The Ambassador never was a grande dame like the State, the 1924 Raleigh Vaudeville house/musical theater/cinema demolished two years ago. The ambassador was a flashy flirt, an example of the Art Deco design that was the last word in modern when she opened in 1938. In her glory days, she had 1,700 leather and chrome seats. She had rhinestone-trimmed curtains, golden doors, a curving chromium staircase and a 40,000-watt marquee called the brightest spot in the city.
Much of the Ambassador was lost long ago. The bulldozers will flatten an empty building where pigeon droppings are a foot deep. They will crush elaborate plaster trim hidden behind '60s renovations. They will demolish a theater that began its run with stars and closed with kung-fu movies.
But the spirit of the Ambassador lingers.
"We turn the lights out at night and still hear Elvis sing," says Richard W. Vanderpool, who directed the removal of asbestos in the theater.
Photo Courtesy NC State Archives
Passersby told him about Elvis Presley's stage appearance there in the 1950s, when both were still in their prime. They recalled "The Sound of Music," which had a year-long run there.
The Ambassador's curtains opened for the first time on Monday, Feb. 21, 1938, and the screen lit up with "Radio City Revels" starring Ann Miller. Bargain hour tickets were a quarter. Children could come any time for a dime.
The ambassador was built on the site of the historic Grand Theater, which had burned a decade earlier. She was named for Josephus Daniels, who had been editor and publisher of The News and Observer and ambassador to Mexico.
"It was high class," says Nell J. Styron, a long-time Raleigh film-goer. "If your date wanted to make an impression, he took you to the Ambassador."
The Ambassador was Raleigh's A movie house, a "theee-ate-tah" as Mrs. Styron calls it. For years, popcorn was banned from its elegant interior. Only first-run movies played there, and the feature changed twice a week. The theater's own artist turned out original posters to advertise the films.
Male moviegoers wore coat and tie; women donned their Sunday best. The ushers had blue gray Eton jackets with double rows of buttons.
Patrons never waited for the start of a movie. They walked in when they arrived; they saw the end of one show and the beginning of the next. Sometimes they sat there all day, seeing the same movie again and again.- The News & Observer, 7/5/1989
Barry Porter, regional executive director of the American Red Cross, will give a free presentation on the history and services of the Red Cross, including the organization's role in WWI in Raleigh. The program will be at the Raleigh City Museum from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, January 14. The museum's collection includes original WWI posters and propaganda.
In 1974, the last Civil War veteran had been dead for 15 years, but according to the Veterans Administration, 257 Civil War widows were still living. One was living in Fayetteville's Confederate Women's Home.
She was 94 years old and the only Confederate widow living in the home dedicated to widows and daughters of Confederate soldiers, but she had once been one of the young girls who found themselves marrying "widowers or older bachelors, then referred to as 'Southern gentlemen.'"
Little did they realize they would be one of the twentieth century's last remaining links with the U.S. Civil War.
Sarah Ussery Scoggins was but 22 when she married 65-year-old James Scoggins. He was a Confederate veteran of the Civil war, and a widower with 10 children.
In addition to Mrs. Scoggins, 28 daughters of Confederate soldiers live there[in the home]. Most are in their 90s, never married or have outlived their relatives.
Sarah Scoggins in 1974
A wealth of war stories, the likes of which couldn't be matched by veterans of any other conflict, are locked within these women.
Sarah Scoggins' usual vim and agility has faded rapidly ... but occasionally, she will recall the tales her husband of 20 years used to recant.
"The outpost had to be guarded," she began, feebly drawing her shawl to her. "Six men had already been killed there. Then they sent Mr. Scoggins. But he came back. He said he heard funny noises sounding like hogs grunting. Those hogs were Yankees making noises. Mr. Scoggins fired on them and his life was spared," she said.
Another time his life was spared when a bullet hit his Bible in his shirt pocket, she said.-- The News & Observer 5/24/1974
The Confederate Women's Home was built in 1915 with a state appropriation of $100,000. It was authorized to operate until 1970, but in 1969, the General Assembly extended its life until 1980. To be eligible for residence in the home, an applicant had to be 65 and "must show herself to be a needy widow, or daughter, of a North Carolina Confederate soldier who saw active service." The widow's pension at that time was $75 per month with $150 for funeral expenses upon her death.
By 1981, the once majestic home was showing its age. The interior remained sound, but the roof leaked, the second story had been boarded off, and one wing and the chapel had been rented to a local church. The remaining nine residents (the youngest aged 85) were moved to other locations, and the home closed. It was demolished in 1982, and the land became part of the campus of Terry Sanford High School. Former residents are buried in a small cemetery on the grounds.
In its final days, the home's residents and staff mourned their loss.
"It's not like a rest home or a nursing home," said Sybil George, an employee of 10 years. "It's just like your home."-- The News & Observer 3/23/1981
George Randall, who headed North Carolina's prison systems in the 1960s had a reputation for stressing rehabilitation and work-release programs, saying these community-based programs were "a hard-nosed approach requiring the offender to work to support his family, to pay taxes and to obey the law." In 1969, one of his jobs was to round up the inmates who had failed to return from "yule leave."
The holidays are over for all but one of the more than 450 prison inmates granted Christmas leave.
As for the one -- "We'll get him," said deputy Corrections Commissioner George Randall.
"We only had 12 out of all those people who messed up," Randall said. One escaped, one died, two showed up late. The rest celebrated a little too much and ran afoul of laws against intoxication.
"A couple of guys were drunk on return to the prison," Randall said. "Three more were drunk and picked up by police. One went to sleep while drunk and set fire to a sofa. Another was arrested for driving under the influence, hit and run and damage to property.
"And another one was picked up for being drunk and threatening his wife."
Randall was pleased with the results. "Only 12 out of 450 isn't bad at all. And only one not showing up out of the 12 is really good.
"Last year, we had about 80 out for Christmas leave and only two of them got in trouble, so we've got a pretty good thing going." Randall added. "It looks like everybody's had a pretty merry Christmas."
Those granted Christmas leave were given from one to four days of freedom.
Included also were inmates whose sentences were set to expire between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1.
To qualify for the four-day home visit, an inmate must have been in the work release program 60 days or more and be on honor grade. Around 100 inmates on work release for 60 days -- but with no previous trips home -- received a one-day holiday beginning Christmas Eve and ending the night of Christmas Day.
Randall said some didn't qualify due to a number of things. "Mainly, we didn't feel they had the proper home atmosphere to return to and, in some cases, a kind of home atmosphere they didn't want to go back to at Christmas." -- The Raleigh Times 12/30/1969
George Randall (right) points out some of the features of Central Prison to a visiting professor in 1962.
Long before the Theater in the Park version made its debut, North Carolina audiences enjoyed Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol (published on this date in 1843) as read by Dr. Frederick H. Koch, founder and director of the Carolina Playmakers at UNC.
In Raleigh, Dr. Koch brought the voices of "Old Scrooge, the meanest pinch-penny in England, and Tiny Tim, the sweetest invalid" to the Ambassador Theatre.
Each year Dr. Koch, who has passed his 200th public reading of the Carol and is as busy as Santa Claus around Christmas time, includes Raleigh on his itinerary. And each year hundreds have been turned away because the Ambassador Theatre could not accomodate all those who wanted to get in.
Dr. Koch's reading of the Carol has brought such a deep sense of the Christmas spirit to so many thousands that he is in demand all over the country.
In Chapel Hill and several other North Carolina cities, his reading has become an annual institution, and the people go to hear him again and again -- if they can get in.
Dr. Koch reads the entire Carol with only a slight rest between the cantos. His voice creates vivid impressions as it moves from Scrooge's whines to the somber tone of the ghost to Tiny Tim's plaintive "God bless us every one."
He first read the Carol to a group of friends in 1905 and that started something. His audience at the University of North Dakota demanded a repeat performance the next year, and the audience grew until hundreds were turned away for lack of space. He was urged to read the Carol in nearby cities and towns. By 1935 he had read the Carol 125 times, by 1938 more than 160 times, and now he is looking forward to his 200th time.-- The News & Observer 12/11/1941
The following year, Dr. Koch gave 19 readings in 17 North Carolina cities and towns. He continued these performances until his death in 1944.
Dr. Frederick Koch (left), with his student Paul Green. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.