The New South Elite In Control
Dan L. Morrill
of North Carolina at Charlotte
exhibited the best qualities of Charlotte's
New South elite. As early as 1912, when he had headed a fundraising campaign
to build a new YWCA, Ovens had begun to establish himself as a prominent
local philanthropist. Ovens was
president of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce
, which was established in 1915 as the successor to the Greater Charlotte
Club. He was president of the Good Fellows Club
, a charitable organization that had its origins in Second Presbyterian
. "The chief value of this club lies not in its charitable work
alone, but in acquainting five hundred men with the other side of life
apart from our palatial clubs, luxurious homes, trips to Florida in winter
and to Europe, or expensive resorts in Newport or Bar Harbor in the
summer," Ovens declared. He headed Charlotte's first Community Chest
Drive, forerunner of today's United Way. Ovens was the local chairman of
the American Red Cross during World War II and served on the boards of
several other prestigious Charlotte-Mecklenburg institutions, including
, Davidson College
, and Presbyterian Hospital
. The list of his civic contributions goes on and on.
Like many wealthy Charlotteans, Ovens also had a home at Blowing Rock,
North Carolina. It still overlooks the 13th fairway of the golf
course of the Blowing Rock Country Club.
Ovens was a member of the delegation that
traveled to Washington, D.C. in July 1917 to lobby for the establishment
of a World War One military training camp in Charlotte.
Much as Dr. Charles J. Fox
, James W. Osborne
, and William Johnston
had done in the late 1840s, Ovens and his compatriots were
seeking to stimulate the local economy through the introduction of new
infrastructure. They too were
successful. General Leonard
, commander of the Army's Department of the Southeast, visited Charlotte
on July 5, 1917. Wood toured
"the site offered on the southwest of the city." "Over and
over this site," The Charlotte
reported, "went the
party, inspecting the topography of the land, the streams, wooded
sections, roads, and all else." Members of General Wood's staff were
"charmed with several particularly high knolls, which afforded
excellent places for the location of headquarters."
Charlotte Chamber of Commerce
raised thousands of dollars of private money to purchase a
sufficient amount of land to accommodate the needs of the U. S. Army.
Named Camp Greene
in honor of Nathanael Greene
of Revolutionary War fame, the massive facility, containing
approximately 2000 buildings on 2340 acres of land, opened just to the
southwest of town by the end of August 1917.
Some 60,000 soldiers, many from New England, also later textile
executive and Forsyth County native Harry Dalton, would eventually train
at Camp Greene -- about as many people as then resided in Charlotte.
Scene of Camp Greene
The initial headquarters for Camp Greene
were located in the James C. Dowd House
, which still stands on Monument Avenue off Wilkinson Boulevard.
The most tragic events at Camp Greene occurred during the Winter of
1918-1919, when a worldwide Spanish Influenza epidemic swept into
Charlotte. Susie Harwood VanLandingham
received a personal commendation from President Woodrow Wilson
for her supervision of the Red Cross Canteen at Camp Greene. She
remembered visiting the Spanish Mission style Southern Railroad Station
on West Trade Street and
seeing rows of coffins waiting to be loaded on trains headed for New
England and elsewhere.
is best remembered as a lover of the arts. One of his favorite
civic responsibilities was serving for eighteen years, from 1934 until
1952, as president of the Community Concert Association. His job was to
bring excellent professional actors and musicians to perform in Charlotte.
The problem was that the city had no building that could meet even the
minimum performance requirements of artists during the 1930's and 1940's.
Founded in 1932, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra played its initial
concerts at Alexander Graham Junior High School on East Morehead Street
before moving to the auditorium at Piedmont High School and then to the
Armory Auditorium on Cecil Street, later Kings Drive. There was a
time," remembered Ovens, "when the old Armory was becoming so
shabby that people didn't want to go to artistic events there, and the
attendance fell off."
A man of conservative tastes, Ovens
detested modern architecture and modern art. "Everyone should be
allowed to have one pet peeve," he proclaimed. "Mine is modern
architecture." He spoke with special disdain about "those
straight up-and-down, steel-ribbed, glass-enclosed structures that are
more in keeping with the design of a small-town factory, or parking
garage." Ironically, the Charlotte landmark that bears his name,
on East Independence Boulevard
, is just such a building. It was fashioned by Charlotte architect A. G.
., whom Ovens called a "good friend."
Ovens played the pivotal role in securing
public backing for Ovens Auditorium
, originally called the Civic Center, and the Charlotte Coliseum
, now Independence Arena. On October 27, 1949, Mayor Victor Shaw
selected Ovens to head a planning committee to select a site
for the new facility and to recommend an architect. Shaw described Ovens
as "the most public-spirited citizen that Charlotte had ever
Ovens Auditorium and Charlotte Coliseum
Determined that Charlotte would have a
cultural and entertainment facility worthy of its status, Ovens and his
fellow members on the planning committee pushed ahead with their agenda.
In May 1950, City Council approved the committee's recommendation that A.
G. Odell, Jr
. be the architect. The voters of Charlotte went to the polls on October
14, 1950, and gave their backing for bonds to acquire the land and build a
new auditorium and a new coliseum. The Charlotte Coliseum
and Ovens Auditorium
were completed in 1955. David Ovens
attended the official dedication ceremonies on September 11th.
Not surprisingly, the featured speaker was evangelist and native son Dr.
. David Ovens
died almost exactly two years later, on September 9, 1957.
James B. Duke
's most powerful and influential resident was the noted industrialist and
philanthropist James Buchanan Duke
. On March 8, 1919, Duke
purchased the Colonial Revival style
home that architect C. C. Hook
had designed in 1915 for utilities executive Z. V. Taylor
and his wife, Irving Scales Taylor. Duke assembled twelve parcels of property to form an estate
in excess of 15 acres. Between
1919 and 1922 he transformed the already-substantial house which the
Taylors had built into a majestic mansion of 45 rooms and 12 baths. This
was the only house that Duke owned in North Carolina during the years of
his greatest power and influence. He called it
Lynnwood. Duke owned a house (Rough Point) in Newport, Rhode Island, a townhouse
on 5th Avenue in New York City, and maintained his legal residence on a
2600 acre estate in Somerset County, New Jersey.
Lynnwood or White Oaks
Apparently, two considerations were
uppermost in causing Duke to
purchase the property in Charlotte. First, business activities compelled
him to spend extended periods of time in the city. Second, he wanted to
expose his one and only child, Doris Duke
, to the "ins and outs" of Southern life.
|Dr. Walker Gill Wylie
In 1904, James B. Duke
met Dr. W. Gill Wylie
, a physician in New York City, who had joined with his brother in 1899 in
launching the Catawba Power Company
of Fort Mill, South Carolina, the first hydroelectric
production venture on the Catawba River
. Duke suggested that he form a partnership with the Wylie
Brothers so that capital for expansion could be committed to the
enterprise. The financially beleaguered Wylie Brothers readily accepted,
thereby assuring the establishment of the Southern Power Company
, later Duke Power Company
. Prompting Duke to enter this field was his belief that the
economy of North Carolina would achieve its potential only if sufficient
power was available to sustain an expanding textile manufacturing
component. The early history of the Southern Power Company proved that
Duke was correct. The harnessing of the Catawba River allowed the textile
industry to prosper in the Piedmont and was the single most important
factor in stimulating the industrial growth of this region in the first
half of the twentieth century.
That James Buchanan Duke
took considerable delight in his accomplishment seems certain.
It is not unreasonable to assume that Duke regarded Lynnwood
as a symbol of his success in the hydro-electrical business.
In any case, the most memorable feature of the estate was an enormous
fountain, which according to some sources propelled water to a height of
150 feet. A favorite weekend excursion for Charlotteans was to park nearby
and watch the huge column of water spray into the air. Ben Dixon MacNeill,
staff writer for the Raleigh News
, commented that Duke took
"spontaneous pride" in 3 things -- his Rolls Royce, his
daughter, and his fountain in Charlotte.
The most significant event in Lynnwood
's history occurred in December 1924. A series of meetings in the sunroom
in the west wing of the house culminated in the establishment of the Duke
, a philanthropic enterprise of enormous importance to the people of North
Carolina and South Carolina. Local institutions such as Johnson C. Smith
, formerly Biddle Memorial Institute
, and Davidson College
received substantial bequests.
Furman College in South Carolina and North Carolina's Trinity
College, which changed its name to Duke University, were also benefactors
of Duke's philanthropy.
In this writer's opinion, one can gain
instructive insights into the assertive and tenacious character of Duke
and the other New South leaders of his era by visiting the Duke University
Campus and viewing the statue of Duke that stands in front of the
magnificent Gothic Revival style Duke Chapel. The bronze figure is 8 feet,
4 inches tall and sits on a 25-ton Cape Anne granite pedestal.
The inscription reads: "James Buchanan Duke
, December 23, 1856-October 10, 1925. Industrialist, Philanthropist,
Founder of the Duke Endowment
." James B. Duke
's final consuming interest was building Duke University. As he lay dying,
one of his last recorded statements was "Don't bother me, nurse.
Today, I am laying out the university grounds."
James Buchanan Duke
died at his home in Somerville, New Jersey.
was another prominent and influential resident of Myers Park
. He lived on Queens Road until he and his second wife, Sara
Eckerd Watts Morrison, moved to their suburban farm named Morrcroft
in 1927. A native
of Richmond County, Morrison was an adroit and flamboyant politician. His
initial forays into the public arena occurred in the 1890s, when as a
young attorney he headed the White Supremacist Red Shirt movement in
Richmond County. The only
elective office that Morrison held during these years was as Mayor of
Rockingham, North Carolina, in 1893.
Morrison moved his law practice to
Charlotte in 1905. The Charlotte
described him as a young man
of ability who possessed a clear, musical voice.
On December 6, 1905, Morrison married Lottie May Tomlinson
of Durham, North Carolina, who was to be the mother of an only
child, Aphelia Lawrence Morrison.
Lottie Morrison died in Presbyterian Hospital
on November 12, 1919. A graduate of the Women's College of
Baltimore, Maryland, and Peace Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina,
Lottie Morrison had been
active in local civic affairs. During World War I she had served as
captain of a Red Cross canteen team at Camp Greene
In 1920, Morrison opposed O. Max Gardner
, Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina, in the Democratic primary for
Governor. A principal ally of Morrison's in this campaign was Senator
, long-time leader of the Democrat Party.
Morrison was victorious; and in January 1921, he became the
Governor of North Carolina. In
an address that he delivered on January 28, 1921, Governor Morrison
exhibited the progressive and assertive spirit that was to characterize
his administration. Indeed,
his verbiage was vintage New South Boosterism.
do not want to move and have our being as a crippled, weak and halting
State, but we want to stand up like a mighty giant of progress and go
forward in the upbuilding of our State and the glorification of our
It was customary for the chief executives
of North Carolina to make bold promises at the outset of their terms, but
did a better than average job in fulfilling his pledge to the
people. He is remembered best as the "Good Roads Governor." To
bring North Carolina "out of the mud," Morrison secured funds
for a massive road-building program. His objective was to construct paved
highways to every county seat in the state. Governor Morrison also labored
to upgrade the educational system throughout North Carolina. Allocations
to the public institutions of higher learning were increased substantially
during his administration. For example, fourteen buildings were erected on
the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill between 1921
and 1925, the years during which he served as Governor. Moreover, Morrison
committed financial resources to the establishment of excellent primary
and secondary schools at the local level. Another of Morrison's major
accomplishments was the improvement of medical facilities, especially
those involved in the treatment of the mentally and emotionally infirm.
In keeping with his Jeffersonian
proclivities, Morrison believed that the existence of an educated
citizenry was indispensable to the survival of the American republic.
Indeed, he believed that those African American citizens who could
demonstrate their ability to grasp and appreciate public issues should be
permitted to exercise the full rights of citizenship. Illustrative of
Governor Morrison's position on this matter was the fact that he channeled
substantial resources to the improvement of the black colleges of North
Carolina. Also noteworthy is the fact that the poll tax was eliminated
during his administration.
On December 13, 1930, Governor O. Max Gardner
surprised many political pundits by appointing Morrison to the
United States Senate to serve out the term of Senator Lee S. Overman
, who had recently died. In
1932, however, Morrison was unsuccessful in his campaign against Robert R.
, an Asheville attorney. Reynolds used his opponent's wealth as an
effective political and oratorical weapon, accusing Governor Morrison of
eating caviar and using a gold spittoon.
In 1942, the voters of the Tenth Congressional District elected
Morrison to the House of Representatives. He did not run for reelection.
Instead, he campaigned in 1944 to return to the United States Senate.
Again, he was unsuccessful, this time losing to Clyde R. Hoey
of Shelby, North Carolina.
Governor Morrison did not run for
public office again. His involvement in politics did not abate, however.
He headed the North Carolina delegation to the National Convention of the
Democrat Party in Chicago in 1952. His speech urging the delegates to
preserve party unity appeared on national television.
That Governor Morrison practiced what he preached was affirmed by
the fact that he supported enthusiastically the candidacy of Adlai
Stevenson for the Presidency. Indeed, the last political speech of his
career, delivered at Freedom
Park in Charlotte, echoed the same devotion to the Democrat Party that he
had espoused as a young attorney in Richmond County in the 1890's.
"Of course there have been actions taken by
Democratic Administrations of which I have not wholly approved. Of course,
there have been, and still are, individuals within the Democratic Party
whom I would much rather have seen elsewhere. But we must never let
anything swerve us from the only honorable course, and that is the true
loyalty to the Democratic Party, now, as in the past, and forever."
died on August 21, 1953, of a heart attack at the age of
eighty-three. His imposing home remains in Charlotte.
Click here to see.
Mayor Ben Douglas
had a house on Malvern Road in Myers Park
. Like so many other New South leaders of Charlotte in the
first half of the twentieth century, including Ovens, Duke, and Morrison,
and for that matter Tompkins and Latta of an earlier generation, Douglas
was not a native. Born in
Iredell County, Douglas moved to Charlotte from Gastonia in the mid-1920s
and established a funeral home at the corner of Fox Street and Elizabeth
Avenue, now Independence Boulevard
and Elizabeth Avenue. Older Charlotteans have vivid
memories of the Douglas and Sing Mortuary, especially the green awning
that extended all the way from the front door to the curb.
A tireless and adroit politician, Douglas
was Mayor from 1935 until 1941, and earned the reputation of being the
"Builder of Modern Day Charlotte." Douglas loved the drama
and passion of the political arena, and he devoted his enormous energies
and talents to leading the people into what he regarded as a bright and
prosperous future. Born in the 1890s, he reached adulthood during
the "roaring twenties," when it seemed that everybody was making
piles of money in the stock market. Then came the crippling
Depression of the 1930s. Douglas saw himself as a cheerleader, as an
urban booster who would rally the people of Charlotte and give them hope.
Original Hangar at Douglas Airport
Douglas's greatest and most enduring
contribution to the building up of Charlotte was his commitment to the
establishment of a municipal airport, which still bears his name.
Passenger air service began here on December 10, 1930, but the
Curtis Condor airplane had to land at a private field. At Mayor Douglas's insistence, the Charlotte City Council
voted on September 3, 1935, to apply for Federal funds from the Works
to build an airport for Charlotte. When Washington approved the request on November 13th, the City
decided to use the money for land acquistion.
Voter-approved bonds were sold on March 1, 1936, to pay for the
improvements, including the terminal and the hangar.
"Hundreds of unemployed men, bundled in overcoats, stood in
line for the first WPA jobs, which consisted of clearing the site of
trees and underbrush," writes historian Ryan Sumner.
The original hangar at what is now Charlotte Douglas International
survives. It is
located at 4108 Airport Drive and is the home of the Carolinas Aviation
Ben Douglas appointed J. B. Marshall City Manager in
May 1935. Marshall and Mayor Douglas provided dynamic
Douglas was a prime mover in persuading the
War Department to establish an air station at Charlotte shortly before the
entry of the United States into World War Two.
Dedicated on April 21, 1941, and named Morris Field
in honor of William Colb Morris
, a World War One aviator from Concord, North Carolina, the air station
was devoted primarily to the training of pilots and the maintenance of
aircraft. Like Camp Greene
during World War One, Morris Field was a boost to the local
economy. "The Army Air Base at Morris Field became a $6 million
government investment," boasted the Charlotte
years later. Charlotte
architect W. R. Marsh designed the buildings, and Blythe Brothers
Construction Company and Goode Construction Company, both local firms,
built Morris Field.
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County had two
other large military installations during World War Two.
The former Ford Motor Company Plant on Statesville Avenue became
the home of a U. S. Army Quartermaster Depot
on May 16, 1941. Lastly,
a committee of Charlotte businessmen, including Mayor E. M. Currie, R. S.
Dickson, W. Carey Dowd, Jr., and Edwin Jones, orchestrated a successful
campaign to bring a large Naval Ammunition Depot
to Mecklenburg County in 1942.
Located in what is now the Arrowood Industrial Park and operated by
the U. S. Rubber Company, the facility covered over 2200 acres and
employed about 10,000 people.
"During operations," reported the Charlotte
, the 'shell plant' grew to approximate the size and activities of a small
city." Among those who
worked at the "shell plant" was Dot Cornwell of Lincolnton.
Only a year out of high school, she would board a bus each morning
with other young women for the trip to her job in Mecklenburg County.
She made $27.50 per week, more than twice the pay she had received
as a clerk in a dime store.
The substantial record of accomplishment of
Charlotte's New South leaders is undeniable.
It is difficult to imagine how Charlotte could have become the
economic capital of the two Carolinas without the contributions of men
like David Ovens
, James Buchanan Duke
, Cameron Morrison
, and Ben Douglas
. But just as incontestable is the fact that their power rested
upon a narrow base and that Charlotte's elite expected the rank-and-file
citizens of Mecklenburg County to be deferential and obedient.
Textile executive and philanthropist Harry
kept a dairy during World War Two. The 1942 volume survives.
The entries provide a fascinating glimpse into the lifestyles and
attitudes of Charlotte's New South leaders of that era.
As mentioned earlier,
Dalton had first come to Charlotte from his native Forsyth County
as a young Army private at Camp Greene
. An unpretentious but skillful negotiator, Dalton would
eventually attain substantial wealth and influence.
He and his wife were major benefactors of the Mint Museum of Art.
Charlotte's Spanish Mission Style Station.
Demolished in 1962.
In October 1941, Dalton became the head of
the rayon and nylon division of the War Production Board, which was
headquartered in the nation's capital.
Dalton would routinely leave Charlotte by train from the Southern
Railroad Station in Charlotte for Washington,
D.C. on Sunday nights and return the next Friday mornings and spend the
weekends with his wife and two children at the family home in Myers Park
. Sometimes the trip was arduous.
"The trains are crowded these days with people going to &
from Washington," he wrote on January 4, 1942.
"There is hardly any standing room in the club cars."
Dalton reported that the porters became so familiar with his
traveling habits that they had his berth prepared for him when he boarded
the train on Sunday nights at Charlotte's Spanish Mission style railroad
The Former United States Mint Building, now Mint
Museum of Art.
belonged to the small group of white men who virtually
controlled Charlotte during World War Two.
Known as the "Round Table
," these privileged gentlemen gathered most weekdays at noon for
lunch at the restaurant in Ivey's Department Store.
"I had lunch with the 'Round Table' group today," Dalton
declared on January 2nd. Among the regulars were David Ovens, Henry
Allison, Tom Glasgow, Norman Pease, and Mayor Currie. These men
established a close, interlocking network of business and social
relationships. "This is
a rather interesting group of men," said Dalton.
"Everything from world events to local and individual items
One of the important bonding rituals for
elitist males in Charlotte was playing golf.
It still is.
Dalton was an avid golfer and played most of his rounds at the
exclusive Charlotte County Club
, of which he was a member. "I
had an 83 today," he wrote on November 14th. "I played with E. C.
Griffith, Claude Cochrane, Jim Shannonhouse. 83 is fair for
an ole man like me who has not played in two weeks."
Another elitist ritual was traveling together to Chapel Hill or
Durham to attend college football games.
It still is.
Dalton and about thirty of his friends boarded a bus at the
Charlotte County Club on News Years Day 1942 for a trip to Duke Stadium,
where the Rose Bowl was being held because of apprehension over a possible
Japanese air attack against California.
Duke was playing Oregon State. Dalton reported that one member of
the party "felt a little too good."
On the way back on the bus this person "kept pushing people's
hats down over their heads, etc."
"We got home about midnight," said Dalton.
"It was an interesting day."
Charlotte Country Club
prominent white men of Charlotte would also gather at the Charlotte County
Club on special occasions to celebrate and pay tribute to one another.
One such event was a banquet honoring David Ovens on his seventieth
birthday. "Attended dinner tonite (sic.) to surprise David Ovens on
his seventieth birthday," Dalton wrote on December 4th. George Ivey
read a poem satirizing Eleanor Roosevelt. "Mr. Ovens does not like
the Roosevelts," said Dalton. Other poems followed including one by
Dalton about tires. Much of Dalton's time in Washington was spent
assuring that enough rayon and nylon were available to produce tires for
the military. Another gathering place for the privileged whites of
Charlotte was the Mint Museum of Art in the fashionable Eastover
neighborhood. "To Mint in afternoon to see the Strauss Collection of
silver & paintings, wrote Dalton on April 26th.
1942 diary Dalton often referred to World War Two and especially to the somber
course of events in the Pacific Theater. "The Pacific news is bad,"
he stated on February 23rd. "The Japs are winning. Superior in
numbers apparently. I hope we can eventually turn the tide."
"The war news is worse from the Pacific area," he wrote on March 7th.
On October 11th he said: "War all over the world. News not too
encouraging." He spoke about "blackouts" and gas rationing.
Dalton frequently attended farewell parties for prominent young men who
were going off to fight the Germans, the Italians, and the Japanese.
" I had farewell parties with Jimmie Harris. He and Reed Anthony
both going in the Navy," he reported on August 14th. A more lavish
goodbye party was held at the James B. Duke Mansion in Myers Park on May
2nd for the Charlotte Memorial Hospital Evacuation Unit. Dalton and
his wife Mary were there. "It reminded me of stories written about
the dashing social units leaving the old plantations during beginnings of
the Civil War.," wrote Dalton.
, like most wealthy white males of his time, was a man of substantial
accomplishment. On the last
pages of his 1942 dairy he meticulously listed all the business,
philanthropic, and cultural organizations in which he held leadership
positions. Dalton was on the
Board of Directors of nine corporations.
He belonged to the Board of Directors of the Charlotte Country
Club, Charlotte Memorial Hospital, Charlotte Chamber of Commerce
, Goodfellows Club, and the Mint Museum of Art
. He was on the Board of Trustees of Queens College
and a Deacon at Second Presbyterian Church
. Dalton received no pay for
his work for the War Production Board in Washington, D.C., which regularly
took him away from his home and family.
|Women did continue to play a role in public affairs,
especially with regard to public health and public education.
This is Mrs. C. C. Hook, wife of the locally famous architect. A
member of the Charlotte Woman's Club, she was a leader in establishing
a High School Parent-Teachers' Association in 1915.
However impressive or magnanimous his
attainments might have been, Harry Dalton
demonstrated little awareness of the advantages that might
accrue from sharing power with rank-and-file Charlotteans, especially
African Americans. Just
like D. A. Tompkins
and Edward Dilworth
or James B. Duke
or any of Charlotte's New South elite, Dalton believed that
everyone would ultimately benefit from the leadership that only he and his
"golf-playing buddies" could provide. Especially enlightening in this regard was Dalton's treatment
of the black servants who worked in his Myers Park
home. African American women prepared the meals for his
family, not always successfully. "We have no cook: as Cora Young we let go," he declared on September 25th.
Dalton was peeved when Cora's successor did not come to work even
on Christmas Day. "Our
cook . . . did not show up -- sick I guess."
In true paternalistic manner, however, Dalton went out of his way
to assist a substitute cook whom he respected.
He wrote on June 28th:
The cook (Cora Young) has been on
vacation. Julia McKinght, the nurse and Johnson C. Smith graduate is cooking.
She teaches next year. We are trying to get her located. Mary called Dr.
Harding, Superintendent of Schools. She
is ever a conscientious girl. We hate to lose
her but want to encourage her in bettering herself.
Julia, of course, taught in
a racially segregated school.
As long as the rank-and-file citizens
of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County recognized their station in life and
did nothing to threaten the economic and social status quo, the wealthy
and powerful elite treated them with characteristic Southern civility.
was at heart a kind and gentle person. He and his family attended church almost every Sunday.
He and his wife were devoted parents. "We had a fine little Easter
Egg Hunt in the back yard," wrote Dalton on April 5th. On August
22nd, when her son David celebrated his sixth birthday, Mary, said Dalton,
"had a party of about 40 or more little boys and girls." But Dalton
also understood that Charlotte's principal goal was always economic
development. "I missed meeting of Chamber of Commerce to get
industries for Charlotte," he declared on March 7th.
Anyone who wonders what happened when
someone defied Charlotte's New South leaders need only examine the events
surrounding the bloody streetcar strike that erupted in Charlotte in
August 1919. The
behavior of the executives of the Southern Public Utilities Company
might be compared to a fist in a velvet glove -- warm and soft
on the outside but tough and resolute at the core. In this instance as in all others, Charlotte's upper class,
when threatened, chose to fight tenaciously to protect its privileged
position; and the elite's ability to remain steadfast in the face of
mounting criticism, to blame their adversaries for all wrongdoing, and to
garner public support in the end was truly remarkable.
Trouble began shortly after midnight on
Sunday, August 10, 1919. The
motormen and conductors, after negotiations with the Southern Public
had failed, parked the
streetcars in the car barn in Dilworth
and voted unanimously to go on strike. Their aims were to secure a pay increase and to gain
recognition of their union, a local branch of the Amalgamated Association
of Street & Electrical Railway Employees
. The motormen and conductors were anxious to continue
negotiating. "The street
car operators of the town will meet the company officials in conference at
any time the company expresses the desire," union organizer Albert E.
announced. The Charlotte
predicted that the strike would soon be settled in a "spirit of
fairness and friendship."
The president of the Southern Public
, which operated Charlotte's streetcars after 1911, was Zebulon Vance Taylor
, the same man who had just sold his Myers Park
Colonial Revival style
home to James B. Duke
and one of the men who had persuaded the U.S Army to locate
in Charlotte. Taylor's
position remained unchanged throughout the strike. He refused to submit to the workers' demands and accused
Albert Jones of being an outside agitator.
Taylor was condescending in his characterization of the strikers.
"We know our 'boys' too well," he proclaimed on August 12th. "They are of our blood.
They were raised by the same kind of mother as our mothers."
Taylor called the labor unrest "dastardly, cunning,
unfeeling" and insisted that the company could not afford to raise
the pay of the strikers. As
for the union, he agreed to recognize a local union but not one affiliated
with the Amalgamated Association of Street & Electrical Railway
. Just as Latta had done in 1903, Taylor announced that he would
hire and train an entirely new workforce if the conductors and motormen
refused to accept the company's offer.
The trolleys would remain in the barn, said Taylor, "until the
company is enabled to secure car men of this section qualified to give
situation worsened when a large, boisterous crowd, composed mostly of mill
workers from North Charlotte, gathered outside the electric substation on
Elizabeth Avenue at Sugar Creek around midnight on August 12th. The
demonstrators had come to give their support to the local electrical
workers who had struck earlier that day. The electricians were also
seeking higher pay and recognition of their union.
Two electricians had pulled the switches inside the Elizabeth
Avenue substation in the afternoon
and had cut off power to the entire city for a brief period.
The police had arrested the pair for trespassing.
Z. V. Taylor
feared that the mill workers who had assembled that night on
Elizabeth Avenue would try to
seize the substation and cut the power again.
He therefore summoned
Chief Walter B. Orr
spoke to the crowd, and the mill workers went home without
Mill Workers from North Charlotte
Mayor Frank R. McNinch
called the unauthorized interruption of electrical power an
outrage. "If any men or
set of men challenge the forces of law and order, let them take notice
that they do so at their personal peril," McNinch warned.
No doubt realizing that the misdeeds of a few could be used to
discredit the legitimate aims of the strikers as a whole, Z. V. Taylor
insisted that his company was "standing between the
community and the forces of disorder."
According to Taylor, "foreign and dastardly influences"
had caused otherwise "good men" to cut off electrical service,
thereby "jeopardizing the lives of the suffering in the
proclaimed that it was "high time that this people be aroused as
never before in a century." The
more temperate in its editorial response.
"The hope is entertained by the people of the city as a whole
that the slight unpleasantness yesterday will be given distinction as the
one that will mark the course of the strike toward a peaceable and
satisfactory end," the newspaper declared on August 13th. The
editors also commended Mayor McNinch for his efforts to maintain "peace
and good order."
representatives of the strikers and Z V Taylor to City Hall
on North Tryon Street in an effort to settle the escalating
dispute. Several sessions were held, but no agreement was reached on
the issue of the recognition of the union. “We feel that some progress
has been made, but the parties are still far apart and we can only hope
that further conferences may find a basis of settlement acceptable to
all,” announced Mayor McNinch on August 14th. Meanwhile, the
Southern Public Utilities Company escalated tensions by continuing to
place advertisements in the newspaper soliciting applications for new
streetcar workers. "Applications will be received at my office,
beginning Saturday morning," said streetcar superintendent R. L. Wommack.
August 15th the Charlotte Observer was growing impatient with the
absence of streetcar service and blamed the continuation of the strike
mainly on the workers., who, the newspaper claimed, were being coached by a “strike agitator.”
The supposed villain was Albert Jones.
In a moment of ill-advised candor, Jones responded to this
criticism by saying: “I
have long since learned that the capitalists who employ Mr. Taylor own the
major part of Charlotte, but only recently I learned that they control the
city hall, the banks, the newspaper, etc.”
Charlotte was not accustomed to such immoderate rhetoric.
Mayor McNinch “denounced the statement of A. E. Jones,”
reported the Charlotte Observer on August 19th. The mayor
called Jones's declaration a "willful and scurrilous lie." Jones
later retracted his statement and apologized.
meeting attended by some 2000 people was held at the Mecklenburg County
Courthouse on the night of August 19th to hear the workers' side of the
issue. The principal speaker was Marvin Ritch, a Charlotte attorney who was active in attempting to organize local mill
hands. Ritch extolled the virtues of unionism and
assured the crowd that textile workers were solidly allied with the
streetcar conductors and motormen. He
proceeded to issue a threat to the Southern Public Utilities Company
if it attempted to operate
the trolleys with replacement crews.
"Let them run," he declared.
"The textile workers are so strongly organized that they will
not ride cars operated by 'scabs' and other people will not take a chance."
Jones spoke next. He assured the strikers that he would not leave Charlotte
until their demands were met. "All
the speakers were cheered heartily, but the cheering came from spots in
the crowd and was not by any means unanimous," said the Charlotte Observer
Streetcars in front of the car barn in Dilworth.
Motormen and conductors began picketing in
front of the car barn on South Boulevard.
Their primary reasons for doing so was to ascertain if president
Taylor and his associates had decided to bring strikebreakers to town.
Armed clashes were occurring in many cities of the North, where
streetcar strikes were also occurring.
Committees of leading businessmen were appointed to attempt to end
the Charlotte strike peacefully. The
Federal government sent an official of the Department of Labor to town to
try to mediate the dispute. On August 21st, Mayor McNinch and a
citizens committee chaired by Clarence O. Kuester, nicknamed "Booster
Kuester" because of his ardent support for Charlotte's growth, urged
President Taylor to recognize the
Amalgamated Association of Street & Electrical Railway Employees
and the national union of the electricians.
”Mr. Taylor announced that he could not acquiesce in the
agreement," reported the Charlotte Observer
On Saturday, August 23rd, president Taylor, in direct
defiance of the recommendations of Mayor McNinch and the citizens
committee, stated that the Southern Public Utilities Company would resume
streetcar service on Monday, August 25th with replacement crews. He
also withdrew his earlier offer to give the former motormen and conductors
priority in hiring. "From
the beginning of this unfortunate break," Taylor proclaimed,
"our former employees have seemingly disregarded the counsel of their
friends at home and have followed after a malignant traducer of their city
and its official and its institutions."
The Charlotte Observer
that service would not begin immediately to the mill villages of North
and Chadwick-Hoskins "because
of open threats that have been heard of disorders, destruction of company
property and possible violence to passengers in these sections."
McNinch dispatched a body of policemen to the car barn in Dilworth on the
morning of August 25th to maintain order. A large crowd of mill
workers and strikers gathered along South
Boulevard and hurled insults throughout the day at the replacement
motormen and conductors as each trolley
left for its run along the streets of Charlotte.
The trolley crews carried guns.
In mid-afternoon a group of spectators began throwing stones at a
passing streetcar on South Boulevard.
The crew opened fire, and the vandals dispersed.
Matters really got out of hand after dark.
A group of North Charlotte
residents moved toward the police, and an officer struck a
teenager over the head with the butt of a gun.
The boy was taken to St. Peter's Hospital and was found
not to be seriously injured, but the incident angered many of the
The frustration of the crowd grew minute by
minute. The working class
whites must have realized the utter hopelessness of their situation.
Gunfire erupted outside the car barn about 3 a.m. on August 26th between
the police and the demonstrators. About 100 shots were exchanged.
"When the smoke
had cleared away," said the Charlotte
, "14 wounded were picked up and rushed to various hospitals, while
Walter F. Pope
, the first man found dead, was sent to the Hovis undertaking
demonstrators were killed, including a machinist and a railroad engineer.
One was mortally wounded in the abdomen. 14 others were injured,
The local press showed no sympathy for the
strikers. "The business organizations of the city have gone on record
against the sort of unionism that has been imported into the city and
there is a determination that this character of agitation shall be
suppressed," declared the editors of the Charlotte
. Z. V. Taylor
and the Southern Public Utilities Company
had won the day. The New South leaders remained firmly in control.
Some of the former motormen and conductors were rehired.
barn is still in Dilworth
, although it was converted to a bus barn after 1938. At night its
corbelled brick walls have an almost menacing appearance, especially for
those who know that it was here that Charlotte had its bloodiest incident
of labor unrest. Plans are afoot to make the car barn part of a lavish,
upscale development. The wonders of adaptive reuse of historic buildings shall never