The North Carolina Century
Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000

Edited by Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis

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This collection profiles the people who helped shape life in North Carolina in the twentieth century. It includes 160 biographical sketches of Tar Heels who made a difference, highlighting their accomplishments in the areas of agriculture, the arts, business, education, law, media, politics, popular culture, public service, religion, social movements, and sports.


Some of those profiled are familiar because of their prominence in public life--Thomas Wolfe, John Hope Franklin, Doris Betts, Jesse Helms, Doc Watson, and Richard Petty, for example. Others are less well known today but made contributions that deserve to be remembered: James E. Shepard, founder of what is now North Carolina Central University; Ellen Winston, the first U.S. Commissioner of Welfare; and former state Supreme Court Justice Henry Frye, the first African American elected to the General Assembly in the twentieth century. All had a hand in shaping North Carolina between 1900 and 2000, a period during which the state emerged from the aftermath of the Civil War and became a model for development and progressive movements across the South.




Introduction: The North Carolina Century: Two Paths to the Future



Architecture, Science, and Engineering

Arts and Literature

Business and Industry







Popular Culture

Public Service


Social Movements






The twentieth century was North Carolina's century. That is the story that unfolds in Dr. Jeffrey Crow's introduction to this collection. And against that backdrop, North Carolina was transformed by thousands of remarkable people whose work, energy, and interests invigorated the state with their ambitions, their ideas, their vision, and their creativity.

The persons included in this collection raised North Carolina to a position of prominence, and excellence, in industry, the arts, education, and political leadership of the South and the nation. Some of those persons who created that record left deep and lasting impressions, and their names remain familiar. Others performed their life's work quietly, without fanfare, often overshadowed by the rush of events and the passage of time. All of their stories are important if one is to understand the North Carolina Century now, or fifty years from now.

This collection was created to recognize those persons and add to the body of literature about a remarkable state during a dynamic period. This is not a collection of superlatives such as the best farmer, or the most successful businessman, or most prolific artist. Indeed there are subjects included in this collection whose contributions were vain, mean-spirited, and even dangerous. They are in this collection because they too shaped life between 1900 and 2000. This collection was designed to be broad and inclusive and provide as complete a picture as possible of a land undergoing growth and expansion, as well as trial and struggle.

Most of those selected for narrative profiles are native Tar Heels. That was an important distinction in the selection process, but it was not exclusionary. Also included are persons who were born outside of the state but whose careers or contributions to the shape of history are closely associated with the state. Likewise, readers should not expect to find persons who were born here, but whose names became more closely associated with places beyond the place of their birth. These movie stars, musicians, and others of fame were not overlooked. Many are mentioned in the section introductions as a matter of record.

The profiles also include persons who were still living in 2000. If a subject could only qualify by being dead, then many of those who were involved in the last quarter of the century would be absent. Whenever possible, the writers conducted tape-recorded interviews with the living subjects. These recordings are now part of the archive of the Levine Museum of the New South and will be available to researchers and others who wish to learn more about their subjects.

Identifying the men and women who are part of the 160 narrative profiles was no easy task. In fact, the initial list of those proposed for this collection—by historians, journalists, citizens and by the editors—numbered more than 400. Altogether, more than 160 persons are included because of the nature of history. In some cases, entries record the lives of more than one person because the group collectively created a particular institution. In other cases, the narrative includes the contribution of more than one generation of a family. To focus on just one family member, or officer in a business enterprise, would have created an incomplete and inaccurate picture.

The editors relied upon the advice of scholars, journalists, historians, and private citizens to compile the list. The editors tried to throw a wide net in gathering nominations. Names were offered by an advisory committee of scholars and they were solicited from more than 300 persons from all across the state. Unsolicited nominations, many of which arrived following news reports of the project, were also welcomed. All became part of a list that was clearly too great for the physical and fiscal limitations of this project. Choices had to be made.

The final selections were made by the editors and an advisory committee of scholars, which also created the criteria for the selection. This committee was led by Dr. David Goldfield of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and included William Friday, former president of the University of North Carolina; William S. Powell, retired professor of history and former curator of the North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dr. Margaret Barrett, professor of history at North Carolina A & T State University; Dr. Sydney Nathans, professor of history at Duke University; Dr. Harry Watson, professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill; Dr. William Link, chair of the history department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Dr. Percy Murray, professor of history at North Carolina Central University; Dr. Linda Oxendine of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke; Dr. Gail O¹Brien of North Carolina State University; and Dr. Jeffrey Crow, deputy secretary of the Office of Archives and History, N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

The editors encouraged a range of voices in the writing of the narratives. Contributors were chosen for their knowledge of the subject and their ability to present their subject in an interesting, readable, and credible fashion. Among the writers are historians, current and former journalists, freelance writers, published authors as well as scholars preparing for careers in the classroom.

This volume is the product of the North Carolina Biography Project, which received an early endorsement from former Bank of America executive Joe Martin of Charlotte, who recommended it to the Levine Museum of the New South. Financial support came from individuals and foundations with an interest in North Carolina history. Grants were received from the North Carolina Humanities Council, the Knight Foundation, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, the A. J. Fletcher Foundation, the Kenan Family Foundation, the Broyhill Family Foundation, the James G. Hanes Memorial Fund, Wachovia Foundation, the Ralph W. Ketner Family Donor Advised Fund, the Hurley-Trammell Foundation, the Josephus Daniels Charitable Fund, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, the Belk Foundation, the Cannon Foundation, CP&L, a Progress Energy Company, the James J. and Angelia M. Harris Foundation, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the Blanche and Julian Robertson Foundation, Joseph M. Bryan Jr., Sally and Russell Robinson, Erskine Bowles, and Mrs. Betty Kenan.

The editors are indebted to the Levine Museum of the New South, which adopted this project as part of its program, and especially the support of Sally Robinson, a founder of the Museum, whose advice, insight, and encouragement led to the successful completion of this work. The editors also relied heavily on the support of the museum staff, including Director Emily Zimmern, Historian Dr. Thomas Hanchett, and Judy Mitchell, who saw that all the writers were paid promptly. In addition, curators and archivists at libraries across the state were helpful in gathering the photographs that appear with the entries. The editors are especially indebted to Thomas F. Harkins at Duke University Archives; Steve Massengill of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History; Janie C. Morris at the Special Collections Library at Duke University; Hermann J. Trojanowski of the North Carolina State University Archives; the Tufts Archives of Givens Memorial Library in Pinehurst; the Forsythe County Library; the Robinson-Spangler Room of the Public Library of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County; Davie Hinshaw, photo editor of the Charlotte Observer, and Hugh Morton of Grandfather Mountain, whose camera captured much of the life and times of the second half of the century.



About the author
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis are former journalists who have collaborated on a number of books, most recently Terry Sanford: Politics, Progress, and Outrageous Ambitions and The Story of NationsBank: Changing the Face of American Banking. Covington lives in Greensboro; Ellis lives in Charlotte.





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