Friday, September 29, 2006

Hugh Morton, North Carolina Photographer

When Hugh Morton died way too young at age 85 in June, many North Carolinians mourned not only the loss of this irrepressible photographer, developer, environmentalist and Tar Heel promoter, but also the wonderful photographs that Morton might have taken for years more.
Morton’s legacy is an important one. He left us hundreds of thousands of photographs, but also the Battleship North Carolina, the stunning Linn Cove Aqueduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway and an important environmental preserve on Grandfather Mountain. He was responsible in considerable measure for the strong environmental ethic that grew in this state in the last half of the 20th century.
Now he is leaving us another tangible legacy: a new book of photographs published by UNC Press called “Hugh Morton: North Carolina Photographer.” It’s an expansion, UNC Press says, of his earlier book “Hugh Morton’s North Carolina” published in 2003. The official publication date is Oct. 12 – which just happens to be University Day at Morton’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – the day UNC celebrates the laying of the cornerstone of Old East, the nation's first building at a state university, on Oct. 12, 1793. The book will go for $30.
Describing pictures won’t do the book justice, but I’ll tell you his photos of fall foliage are eye-poppers. I especially liked the one of Johnny Cash wrapping himself in an American flag that flew over Grandfather, but maybe my favorite was the photo of the utter delight on a little boy’s face when the ram mascot at a UNC basketball game stooped and reached out to chat with him.
With Hugh Morton, as with his photos, a deft touch and perfect timing were everything.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Memories of Myrtle in the 1950s

Everything changes, often for the better. But if you had told me 50 years ago that Myrtle Beach would be a better place if they tore down the old Ocean Forest Hotel, knocked down the Pavilion and carted off the roller coaster, here’s what I would have said: You’ll ruin the place.
I came of age in the late 1950s, and the high point of my year was the week we’d spend at Myrtle Beach. I never got my fill of trying to ride the waves on the blue canvas rafts you could rent for 50 cents or the golden fried shrimp that everyone seemed to know how to do right.
My family stayed at modest places like the old frame Tally Ho, part dormitory and part guest house and held together by tacks and wire screens. My dad liked a pre-breakfast swim in the ocean before anyone else was up; we’d tiptoe out of our rooms, dash across the street and across the world’s widest, flattest beach for the day’s first dip.
It was no wonder to me they called it the Grand Strand. It was a wide, flat beach good for walking and a great one for looking for a certain brown-eyed girl. And off in the misty distance to the north reposed the out-of-reach Ocean Forest Hotel. I imagined it an elegant place, but never got a look inside; it was imploded in 1974 – “reduced to a pile of rubble in six seconds,” I read somewhere on the Web.
When we got old enough our parents would let me and my sister walk all the way down to the Pavilion, past the same cottages and inns and dives we saw every year: the Wee Blue Inn, the Salt Water Taffy store, and a couple of joints called The Bowery and The Green Door. I was still too young to be much interested in that kind of entertainment for several years more. I wanted to look in the funny mirrors at the Pavilion, listen to the old band organ in the amusement park and spend every cent I had on the Dodgem Cars, where the steering was haphazard and the bumps and bangs were just the things to end a perfect day on the beach.
Somewhere along the way we fell out of the habit of going to Myrtle. The little individual beaches to the north – Ocean Drive and Cherry Grove and so on – got new names, though I have friends who still talk about driving down to O.D. for the weekend.
Maybe it’s just as well that everything changes, that old landmarks fall and new ones rise. There are new attractions in Myrtle Beach now, fancy high-rise hotels and condos and packed shows and fancy restaurants with fancy prices.
But I can’t imagine they fried shrimp any better now than they did it in those little screened-porch-and-linoleum-floored cafes that once dotted the main line in and out of town. I'll have the large platter with extra slaw, thanks, and more sweet tea, please.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The trial in Courtroom 1

The federal courthouse in Raleigh on New Bern Avenue is a utilitarian pile of concrete and glass that has housed some high-profile trials over the years – including the tedious jury selection that marked the beginning of the U.S. Justice Department’s case against former N.C. Lottery Commissioner Kevin Geddings Wednesday.
Opened in 1970 and later named for former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Terry Sanford, the courthouse is every bit as attractive and inspiring a public building as, say, the average late-20th century industrial plant.
If you’re looking for an interesting federal courthouse in Raleigh, you’d have to go to the old Century Station on Fayetteville Street, which began life in 1874 as the U.S. Post Office and housed the federal courts beginning in 1879. When the new federal building opened its doors on New Bern Avenue three blocks east of the Capitol, the focus of the U.S. Eastern District of North Carolina shifted too.
There’s not much to admire about the structure itself, but up on the seventh floor in Courtrooms 1 and 2, a lot of important N.C. history has played out. Over the years I watched former Green Beret doctor Jeffrey MacDonald be convicted (1979) for murdering his family, the late N.C. AFL-CIO head Wilbur Hobby be convicted (1981) for mismanaging federal job training funds and Judge Terry Boyle staring down (2005) the U.S. Navy over its cockeyed plans for a practice jet landing field next to one of the East Coast’s most important winter feeding grounds for migratory waterfowl. Courtroom 1 is also the place where Judge Boyle has consistently ruled against the purported owners of North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights and ordered it given back to the state archives.
On the east wall of Courtroom 1 hang portraits of two legendary judges in the Eastern District – Algernon Butler of Clinton and Franklin Dupree of Raleigh. I never covered Butler’s courtroom but I sat in Dupree’s court several times, and was glad I didn’t have to face the stern-looking Dupree, who had a reputation for running a no-nonsense court.
How the trial of Kevin Geddings on charges of wire fraud and failing to provide honest service will go, no one knows – or what place it will take in N.C. history. But it may produce some interesting footnotes: The list of potential witnesses include Gov. Mike Easley as well as House Speaker Jim Black and Sen. Tony Rand, Democratic leader in the state Senate. It also includes former S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges as well as a couple of state senators and some advisers to Easley. Before it’s over, a lot of otherwise powerful folks may find themselves parading in and out of the walnut-paneled courtroom, facing questions of what they knew and when they knew it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Where's Raleigh's Sir Wally?

The Capital City has been at odds and ends in recent weeks over, as usual, public art. Jim Goodmon, the Raleigh businessman and CEO of Capital Broadcasting, withdrew his offer of $2.5 million to pay for most of a visionary overhead LED lighting grid and waterfall proposal by internationally known designer Jaume Plensa after Mayor Charles Meeker and the City Council expressed doubts. Its members worried the design would interfere with the vista between the old Capitol (1840) and Raleigh’s Memorial auditorium (1932), two copper-top gems anchoring opposite ends of Fayetteville Street.
In 1995, a much less costly public arts project – the $51,000 Light + Time Tower on Capital Boulevard, was subject of much ridicule by then-Mayor Tom Fetzer, who had concerns about its cost. I pass it every day and still enjoy seeing the colors it reflects as the day wears on.
These periodic epidemics of public doubt about public art are not only nothing new in Raleigh, they’re also practically required by long tradition. My colleague Rob Christensen, political columnist and reporter at Raleigh’s The News & Observer, recalled the other day the flap
that blew up over the 1821 statue of George Washington, all decked out in a Roman toga, that sat in the Capitol. That statue cost more than $11,000 at a time where a buck would buy a lot of marble, and folks wondered why it should cost so much to make a man look so foolish.
More recently there was the public unrest over the art scribed into the side of the education building on the State Government Mall just north of the Legislative Building in 1992. It featured a portion of a last speech by turn-of-the-century Gov. Charles B. Aycock: ``YOU ARE A CHILD YOU ARE SUITABLE TO BE AWED” – words evidently delivered moments before he keeled over and died.
But some folks now are worrying over the absence of the city’s namesake statuary – a 1970s-era sculpture in bronze of Sir Walter Raleigh by Bruno Lucchesi. Sir Walter never visited these shores – he lost his head in the Tower of London before he could get over this way – but his statue graced several points in downtown Raleigh before it was moved when the old Fayetteville Street Mall was reopened last year.
My neighbor a few blocks over, Charlie Gregory, a self-described “Republican precinct grunt’ who helped elect the state’s first governor (Jim Holshouser) in the 20th century and later served on a panel that commissioned the statue, is trying to drum up interest in getting the statue back from a Cincinnati foundry. It was sent there a while back to be tidied up and buffed out. Charlie thinks the state paid maybe 35 grand for the monument. It’s a good statue that features Sir Walter in an open collar, according to a description from the city.
Now the city of Raleigh is looking for a good spot to bring Sir Walter back. I don’t know where the best place would be, but I’m thinking he ought to be given appropriate company with other famous figures from the state’s storied past – say, Dean Smith, Roy Williams and Michael Jordan.
But hold the togas, please.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The notorious 'hands' ad is back

Like the 17-year locust, a version of North Carolina’s notorious “hands” ad is back on television. It was last seen here in the 1990 U.S. Senate campaign between Republican incumbent Jesse Helms and former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who was bidding to become the first black U.S. senator from this state.
Shortly before the election, the Helms campaign aired the “hands” ad, showing a pair of white hands crumpling a rejection letter while the announcer intoned, “You needed that job. And you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.”
That ad (click here for a look and more analysis)played to the worst racial fears of white voters and was one of a number of reasons why Helms won his fourth term that election. Helms’ staff later said it ran only a few times, but it was heavily reported in the news media and no doubt was a factor.
Since the 1990 election, versions of the hands ad have appeared in other states, including Oklahoma’s 2004 Senate race when an ad showed Hispanic workers and a set of black hands counting money while an announcer criticized a Democratic congressman’s immigration record.
Now the ad is back in this state. Republican congressional nominee Vernon Robinson of Winston-Salem is using a version of the ad to attack the immigration record of incumbent Democrat Brad Miller of Raleigh in the 13th District. Mr. Robinson, an African American running on his conservative credentials, ran for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 5th District in 2004, boasting that “Jesse Helms is back – and this time he is black.”
In the newest reincarnation of the ad, the hands crumpling the rejection letter are black – suggesting that illegal immigrants take jobs away from black citizens.
“You needed that job,” the ad says. “And you were the best qualified. But they gave it to an illegal alien so they could pay him under the table.”
Mr. Robinson says he’s only trying to campaign on the hot button issue of immigration. But those who remember the notorious race-baiting campaigns in North Carolina history know exactly was he’s doing. He’s making the same sort of racial appeal that has tainted N.C. politics since Reconstruction days.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The fight for the N.C. House

Twelve years ago, Republican legislators adopted a contract with voters that helped them win the state House in the 1994 elections and allowed them to elect the first Republican House speaker – Harold Brubaker of Randolph County – in modern times in the 1995 and ’97 sessions.
Now, with House Democrats on the defensive over allegations of corruption related to passage of the lottery last year and campaign contributions from video poker and optometric interests, Republicans once again hope to win the House with a contract of sorts. It’s not as extensive as the plan the GOP adopted in 1994, but it tells voters what Republican candidates aim to do. House Republican leader Joe Kiser of Lincoln County released the policy statement the other day – with the help of former Speaker Brubaker. Here’s what it says:
North Carolina House Republican Caucus 2006 Position Statements
Policy statement

It is the policy of the North Carolina House Republican Caucus to work as a collective, unified body to implement these position statements and by providing jobs with the overall effect of bettering the lives of all North Carolinians.
The House Republican Caucus supports and is committed to making real, meaningful changes to the ethical code that must be adhered to by all members of the General Assembly as well as the Executive Branch of State Government.
Illegal Immigration
The Republican House Caucus supports and is committed to attacking the issue of Illegal Immigration in the name of public safety, especially in regards to the issuance of North Carolina driver’s licenses and the impact on our State budget with increasing costs to public education, healthcare, law enforcement, and the judiciary.
Eminent Domain
The House Republican Caucus supports and is committed to passing a constitutional amendment to protect individual property rights to prohibit the government from seizing private property for commercial use.
The House Republican Caucus supports and is committed to defend marriage by a constitutional amendment recognizing only marriages between one woman and one man.
Budget Reform
The House Republican Caucus supports and is committed to utilizing zero-based budgeting to effectively estimate, justify, and prioritize North Carolina’s spending plan.
The House Republican Caucus supports and is committed to reducing the personal income tax burden on working families through responsible budgeting and government efficiencies.
North Carolina is the ONLY state that forces counties to help fund Medicaid benefits. The House Republican Caucus supports and is committed to relief in the country funding of Medicaid, which will in turn provide property owners tax relief and more local revenue to be used for school construction, police, fire, emergency, medical services and waste/sewer infrastructure.

Republicans trail Democrats 63-57 in the House and hope their position statements draw clear comparisons between them and Democratic candidates. But as House Democratic leader Joe Hackney of Orange County has pointed out, the House Democratic caucus announced its own policy agenda at the start of the legislative session and addressed each issue before the House adjourned.
Republicans may be a bit tardy releasing their own position statement, but at least they’re doing it now. As former state Sen. Patrick Ballantine emphasized in the 2004 governor’s race, Republicans must demonstrate what they’re for, not just what they oppose, and Kiser and his colleagues clearly understand that.
But there are some unknowns that will also affect this race. One of them is the Republican disarray in Congress and President Bush’s low numbers in the polls. Another is a current campaign within the state Republican Party to drum out some lawmakers who cooperated with House Speaker Jim Black, a Democrat, and Republican Richard Morgan in the 2003 and ’05 sessions. That came about after then-Republican Rep. Mike Decker switched parties, helped keep Black in power and produced a deadlock that led to the first co-speakership in state history with Black and Morgan in the 2003-05 session.
Democrats have their own problems to contend with, of course, and the rumor mill in Raleigh has run wild the past six months over who was about to be charged with this or that. Some of these shoes may fall before the election, and they, too, would have an effect on voters.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Do you remember Hurricane Hazel?

Ten years ago today Hurricane Fran came ashore at Cape Fear and ripped a wide swath of destruction up through Raleigh and across the Virginia border in a rampage that left distinctive marks on Raleigh. This city, once called the City of Oaks, could have been known for a while as the City of Blue Tarp Roofs; some of our neighbors in north Raleigh still had blue tarps showing as late as a couple of years ago. The morning after Fran came through, I spent more than an hour trying to find passable routes to work – and wound up getting guidance via cell phone from John Drescher, then an Observer editor in Charlotte who had recently moved from his west Raleigh home and had some suggestions for streets to try.
The Capital City’s trees were ruined in many places, just as Charlotte’s had been on Sept. 21-22, 1989 when Hugo came up through South Carolina and tore up much of the city.
We’re all a product of our experiences, I guess, and we probably rank hurricanes according to what we remember about the storms we lived through. Lots of folks will remember Fran or Hugo or Floyd (1999) as the worst; I expect folks on the upper Cape Fear River, dealing with flooding today from Ernesto, will remember this storm as the worst.
Count me among those who think Hazel in 1954 was the worst. It was a Category Four storm that took roughly the same path Fran would 42 years later. The Oct. 15, 1954 storm was hardly mentioned in local news reports here before it hit; I was in third grade at Irving Park Elementary School in Greensboro when the storm passed by well to the east and the weather was so awful they wouldn’t let students leave – even for my two-block walk home. We were spared the worst in Guilford, but the next summer my parents drove us to the coast and pointed out the houses awash in the sounds and waterways. Long Beach was just about scraped clean of cottages.
There were nine big storms that hit North Carolina in the 1950s, including seven in two years that gave our coastline the nickname “Hurricane Alley,” writes Jay Barnes in his book “North Carolina Hurricane History.”
What was the worst hurricane you endured? Were you on the coast when Hazel hit?