Tuesday, June 29, 2010

UNC historian finds himself in Obama speech

H.G. Jones, curator emeritus of the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library at UNC Chapel Hill and a former N.C. cabinet secretary, passed along a note the other day about a recent discovery: President Obama had quoted him as a "Navy man" in a speech last year commemorating the extension of the G.I. Bill.On Aug. 3, 2009, the president spoke about the adoption of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. In that speech, he took note of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's thinking on post-war education for veterans that made college possible for millions of returning veterans, and mentioned something Jones had written about it.

Obama said:

"The GI Bill was approved just weeks after D-Day, and carried with it a simple promise to all who had served: You pick the school, we'll help pick up the bill. And what followed was not simply an opportunity for our veterans -- it was a transformation for our country. By 1947, half of all Americans enrolled in college were veterans. Ultimately, this would lead to three Presidents, three Supreme Court justices, 14 Nobel Prize winners, and two dozen Pulitzer Prize winners. But more importantly, it produced hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers, doctors and nurses -- the backbone of the largest middle class in history. All told, nearly 8 million Americans were educated under the original GI Bill, including my grandfather.

"No number can sum up this sea change in our society. Reginald Wilson, a fighter pilot from Detroit, said, "I didn't know anyone who went to college. I never would have gone to college had it not been for the GI Bill." H.G. Jones, a Navy man from North Carolina, said, "What happened in my rural Caswell County community happened all over the country -- going to college was no longer a novelty." Indeed, one of the men who went to college on the GI Bill, as I mentioned, was my grandfather, and I would not be standing here today if that opportunity had not led him West in search of opportunity."

Jones sent me a note about that speech after an exchange he and I had had about the use of the word "sendup" -- defined as a funny imitation or parody of something. Here's what Jones wrote back:

"You've just taught me a new term. Back in Caswell County, 'send up' would mean to send something up to Rockingham County.

"I don't feel too bad, however, for I have recently learned that President Obama quoted me in a speech on the passage of the new GI Bill last year. Have no idea how his speech-writer got ahold of my Kemp Plummer Battle Lecture to Di/Phi Societies in 1990. Anyway, I was honored to be compared to his grandfather. If interested, click on this link, then click on video, and go to the 7 minute 22 minute mark. HGJ"


Jones is a bit more than a "Navy man'" though he did serve in the Navy in World War II. Here's a brief bio from the UNC website: Dr. H. G. Jones is Curator Emeritus of the North Carolina Collection and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is currently the Thomas Whitmell Davis Research Historian. Prior to coming to UNC-Chapel Hill, Dr. Jones served as State Archivist of North Carolina and Director of the North Carolina State Department of Archives and History. He is the founder and secretary of the North Caroliniana Society. He has written widely on North Carolina history, including the state historical column "In Light of History," which was distributed by the Associated Press for seventeen years, and the books North Carolina Illustrated and North Carolina History: An Annotated Bibliography.

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