Friday, March 26, 2010

Chub and the Chatham County Courthouse

A regular correspondent of mine from Charlotte took note of the heartbreaking fire Thursday that destroyed the Chatham County courthouse, a marvelous structure erected in the 19th century and later added onto. His note evoked one of the most colorful political characters of the 20th century, a lawyer who lived in Carthage in nearby Moore County and who likely practiced his trade in Pittsboro from time to time. He wrote:

"The rumble you felt this morning was probably Chub Seawell rolling over when he heard about the Chatham County courthouse burning down."

Herbert F. (Chub) Seawell was a conservative Baptist teetotaler who ran for governor unsuccessfully in 1952 and who brightened the editorial pages of newspapers across the state with his frequent commentaries, always written with as much wit as passion. He also filled in for Jesse Helms in his Viewpoint commentaries on WRAL TV in Raleigh. It was Seawell, not Helms, as is often thought, who remarked back in the 1970s when the legislature was thinking of building a state zoo, that they just ought to "put a fence around Chapel Hill."

I grew up reading his letters in the 1950s and 60s in my hometown newspaper, the Greensboro Daily News, and thought they were funny -- describing Gov. Dan Moore as "Gov. Dan Klan" and referring to President Lyndon Baines Johnson as "Lendem Billions Nimrod Fountain Pen Beulah Father Divine Johnson." He sometimes stuck the phrase "Let the true church roll on" in his commentaries and often signed his letters, "Call your next case."

He called himself a "consecrated layman" and, as historian Julian Pleasants has noted, an "old-fashioned, deep water, missionary, pre-millennial, spirit-filled Bible-believing Baptist" and made sure people knew it. And, Pleasants has written, Seawell laid the groundwork for the development of the Republican Party in North Carolina.

I expect that Seawell, who died in 1983, would indeed have had a few things to say about the loss of the Chatham Courthouse, where he perhaps held judge, juries and spectators in rapturous awe from time to time with his orations in one trial or another.

Call your next case

7 comments:

Ken said...

I read Chub in the old Our State magazine, back in its black and white days. He was a regular contributor, the best writer in the book.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Carthage, Chub's home base, for seven years, and got to know the provocative raconteur very well. Off-camera, Chub was, believe it or not, rather introverted, but always relished a good fight, especially in the courtroom. The old Carthage courthouse, which still stands, was, like its Pittsboro counterpart, a true Courthouse Square, sitting squarely in the middle of the Courthouse Circle. The Pittsboro courthouse was a welcomed sight many years ago when I drove from home as a college student to Chapel Hill. Turning on to 15-501 as you rounded the courthouse, meant that good ol' Mangum Dorm wasn't all that far away. Thanks for the memories not only of Chub, but of this stalwart Chatham County landmark.

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