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Chapter Ten

The New South Elite In Control

Dr. Dan L. Morrill

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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David Ovens

          David Ovens  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 Church . "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 Queens College , 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 Wood , 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 Observer  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."

     The 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.

    David Ovens  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, Ovens Auditorium  on East Independence Boulevard , is just such a building. It was fashioned by Charlotte architect A. G. Odell, Jr ., 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 known." 


Ovens Auditorium

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. Billy Graham . David Ovens  died almost exactly two years later, on September 9, 1957.

[Portrait of James B. Duke]

James B. Duke

     Myers Park '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 and Observer ,  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 Endowment , a philanthropic enterprise of enormous importance to the people of North Carolina and South Carolina. Local institutions such as Johnson C. Smith University , 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.

      Cameron Morrison  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.

Picture of Cameron Morrison

Cameron Morrison

     Morrison moved his law practice to Charlotte in 1905. The Charlotte Observer  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 Furnifold Simmons , 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.

"We 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 God."

     It was customary for the chief executives of North Carolina to make bold promises at the outset of their terms, but Cameron Morrison  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. Reynolds , 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."

Governor Cameron Morrison  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.

Ben Douglas

      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 Progress Administration  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 Airport  survives.  It is located at 4108 Airport Drive and is the home of the Carolinas Aviation Museum.

Ben Douglas appointed J. B. Marshall City Manager in May 1935.  Marshall and Mayor Douglas provided dynamic leadership.

     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 Observer  many 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 Observer , 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 Dalton  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.

Southern Station UpClose.jpg (162352 bytes)

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 station.

The Former United States Mint Building, now Mint Museum of Art.

      Harry Dalton  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 are discussed."

     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

     The 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.

In his 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.

    Harry 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  Latta  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.   Harry Dalton  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 Utilities Company  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. Jones  announced.  The Charlotte Observer  incorrectly predicted that the strike would soon be settled in a "spirit of fairness and friendship."

      The president of the Southern Public Utilities Company , 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 Camp Greene  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 Employees .  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 efficient service."

     The 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  the  police.   Chief Walter B. Orr  spoke to the crowd, and the mill workers went home without further incident. 

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 hospitals."  Taylor proclaimed that it was "high time that this people be aroused as never before in a century."  The Charlotte Observer  was 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."


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Mayor McNinch

     Mayor  McNinch  summoned 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.

     By 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.

     A 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  announced that service would not begin immediately to the mill villages of North Charlotte  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."

     Mayor 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 onlookers. 

    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 Observer , "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 establishment."  Four demonstrators were killed, including a machinist and a railroad engineer.  One was mortally wounded in the abdomen. 14 others were injured, some seriously.

     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 Observer .  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.  The trolley  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 cease.


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