Coca Cola’s restoration of ‘ghost murals’ in Appalachia

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 30, 2014

Please welcome guest author Lauren C. Steele. Steele, who is Sr. VP of Coca-Cola Consolidated, grew up in Auburn, AL. He worked as press secretary for a US Senator before starting his 32-year career in the Coca-Cola system. He and his wife live in Charlotte, NC and have two grown children and one grandchild. He has a passion for both Coca-Cola memorabilia and small town America.

 

Times Square is known as the ‘Crossroads of the World’ and indeed tens of millions of people from around the globe visit each year—and by doing so they get a first-hand look at the most famous sign in the world—the Times Square Coca-Cola Spectacular.

Hinton, WV sign before repainting.

Hinton, WV sign before repainting.

Hinton, WV sign after repainting.

Hinton, WV sign after repainting.

But long before this iconic New York landmark first debuted in 1920, thousands of Coca-Cola wall murals decorated the fronts and sides of buildings in the downtowns of American cities, big and small—towns like Hinton, WV and hundreds of others throughout Appalachia and the rural South.

The very first Coca-Cola wall mural is believed to have been painted on the side of a drug store in Cartersville, GA in 1894. Back then, Coca-Cola was brand new and unknown, so these early advertisements were used to introduce the drink that would one day become the world’s best-selling beverage and the most recognized and beloved brand in the world.

Shortly after marketing genius Asa Candler bought the little known beverage in 1891, he commissioned sign painters to fan out across the country to extol the virtues of the fledgling drink. “Delicious and Refreshing’, ‘Relieves Fatigue & Exhaustion’, The Pause That Refreshes’, ‘Work Refreshed’, ‘You Can Trust Its Quality’, and ‘Take Some Home Today’ were among the many early Coca-Cola advertising tag lines.

By 1910, a quarter of The Coca-Cola Company’s advertising budget was dedicated to wall murals with seemingly every town and crossroads having its own Coca-Cola sign painted on the side of a building. We believe as many as 16,000 wall murals were painted by the Company and its many local bottlers. Candler once famously boasted that a motion picture couldn’t be made anywhere in America without capturing the image of a Coca-Cola wall mural advertisement.

But over the decades most of the once-gleaming signs faded and many became almost unrecognizable. Others were destroyed or painted over. Sadly the dilapidated condition of many of these ‘ghost signs’ mirrored the circumstances of the downtowns where they were located. Many once-thriving, charming downtowns became virtual ghost towns as young people moved to cities and businesses abandoned city centers for the by-pass and the suburbs.

At Coca-Cola Consolidated, we recognize that these ghost signs are an important part of Coca-Cola’s history. But more importantly, the faded wall murals are part of the history of each of the towns where they exist; often treasured landmarks and nostalgic connections to the past. But it took the prodding of Concord, NC Mayor Scott Padgett to convince us we needed to play an active role in preserving this important part of our company’s heritage.

Concord, NC sign before repainting.

Concord, NC sign before repainting.

Concord, NC sign after repainting.

Concord, NC sign after repainting.

Concord had a Coca-Cola mural at its main downtown intersection which dated back to the 1960s, but it was badly faded and largely covered by a metal structure. As part of the city’s downtown revitalization efforts, Mayor Padgett wanted to uncover and repaint the iconic sign—and he convinced us to repair the building and refurbish the sign.

We turned to a bona fide expert for help, Andy Thompson, who had painted hundreds of Coca-Cola signs for our company over a 50-year career. He did a wonderful job restoring the masterpiece to its former glory.

Brides now pose in front of the Concord sign, and it has been prominently featured in television advertising for several local businesses and is once again a landmark in now-vibrant downtown Concord.

Local media coverage caught the attention of a group of young men in nearby Salisbury, NC, who had a passion for their hometown and were working to revitalize that community’s downtown. Creating a link between one of the earliest forms of media and one of the newest, these young people launched a Facebook campaign to promote restoring ghost signs in Salisbury. Coca-Cola Consolidated joined in and refurbished two badly faded Coca-Cola ghost signs.

Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Consolidated is the largest independent Coca-Cola bottler in the US, and we do business in 11 states stretching from Mississippi to West Virginia. We asked our family of 6,000 employees to help us identify ghost signs in the communities we have served since our company was founded in 1902. We discovered lots of Coca-Cola ghost signs and have partnered with elected officials and community leaders in a growing number of communities to restore these beloved wall murals. The list includes two signs in North Wilkesboro, NC; two ghost signs in Mebane, NC; a massive wall mural in Hendersonville, NC; and several signs in Roanoke, VA among others.

To celebrate each sign repainting, we have held community ribbon-cutting events. The outpouring of support has been truly humbling. Large crowds have come to each event, with old-timers sharing their stories of what the sign meant to the town before it faded into an almost unrecognizable ghost sign. We have learned that these signs are much more than an advertisement painted on a wall. They are an important part of the community. We are very glad that the refurbishing of these ghost signs often serves as a kick-start for downtown revitalization efforts.

North Wilkesboro, NC sign repainting in process.

North Wilkesboro, NC sign repainting in process.

North Wilkesboro, NC sign after repainting.

North Wilkesboro, NC sign after repainting.

And we have good news for those who share our love of Coca-Cola wall murals: the fine art of wall mural painting is alive and well more than 120 years after the first wall sign was painted. One very talented artist, Jack Fralin, from Roanoke, VA, has just this year painted several Coca-Cola ghost signs.

Recently, Coca-Cola Consolidated held three community ribbon-cutting celebrations in Virginia and West Virginia, and each was special in many ways. In Rocky Mount, VA, the refurbished sign is located on our old bottling facility and the ghost sign dated back to 1929.

The building now houses a brand new restaurant, the Bootlegger Café, and more than 200 people came out to celebrate the new sign, eat great food from the new restaurant, and order a delicious ice-cold Coca-Cola in an iconic glass bottle. Just up the road in Ronceverte, WV, community leaders and former Coca-Cola employees turned out to celebrate the repainting of a 1920s mural on a former Coke plant that is now the town’s recycling center.

But the largest Coca-Cola mural we have refurbished to date was unveiled in Hinton, WV. The 100 year old mural—originally painted in 1914—is a whopping 17 feet high and more than 60 feet wide and is part of a major revitalization effort in downtown Hinton. At the turn of the 20th Century, Hinton was a boomtown, with a downtown featuring high-rise buildings, two large hotels, restaurants, bars and a hospital. Built as a railroad town at the junction of the New, Greenbrier and Bluestone Rivers, Hinton has suffered from years of economic decline. We are proud that the massive refurbished Coca-Cola mural is playing a role in Hinton’s resurgence.

All of us at Coca-Cola Consolidated have been humbled by the heart-felt emotional reaction we have experienced by community leaders and residents of each town. These ghost signs are a proud part of the history of Coca-Cola, but we discovered they are so much more than a painted sign to the people of these towns. The signs are part of their histories as well. It has been heartening for us to hear all the ‘Coke stories’ of people who grew up with the wall murals and to create new ‘Coke stories’ for the young people who came to our events. Entire communities have come together to celebrate the revitalization efforts in their towns and to enjoy a good, cold delicious Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola has been part of the American life for more than 128 years, and the ghost signs are living testaments to that enduring connection between Coke and the American experience. Because of recent media coverage, our ghost sign project has been ‘discovered’ and we have been contacted by dozens of communities to work with them in restoring their Coca-Cola wall signs. We have years of work ahead of us, but we are on the lookout for more. Stay tuned!

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‘Mountain Girls’ Celebrates the West Virginian Identity

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 29, 2014

Stephanie KarasPlease welcome guest author Stephanie Kadel Taras. Taras has just published Mountain Girls. The book features the lifelong friendship of two girls from Elkins, WV, whose resilience, humor, and creativity shape unexpected lives. Inspired by stories from other West Virginia women, they learn what generations of Appalachians have long known—it’s up to you to make the life you want. Taras’ personal biography firm TimePieces Personal Biographies, LLC, gathers and preserves clients’ stories into heirloom books that record the passing of time.

 

The view as I drove toward Riverside High School, just south of Charleston, was a typical West Virginia mix of beauty and industry, with the mile-long DuPont chemical plant on a stretch of the Kanawha River framed by lush green hills. I had come to give a talk about my new book, Mountain Girls, at a public library that was located within the high school, just beyond the tiny town of Belle. My self-published book had come out a few months previously, and in May 2014, I left my current home in Michigan to return to my childhood home state of West Virginia for a brief book tour.

As I pulled into the parking lot of a modern white brick building, I was feeling a little deflated. My book talk the previous night in downtown Charleston had attracted only three attendees, and I worried that this daytime talk would be even less successful. But when I arrived at Riverside, the librarian said, “Well, at least we know you’ll have a good turn out for this one.”

Mountain Girls cover

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“Because two of the high school teachers are bringing their classes. Didn’t I tell you?”

This was news to me! I looked at the clock. They would arrive in about five minutes. And I hadn’t prepared a talk for teenagers.
But I knew this was an opportunity. After all, Mountain Girls is partially about two teenage girls—my best friend and I growing up in the small West Virginia town of Elkins. And it’s also a book about possibilities, about how you can grow up to love your Appalachian roots without letting those roots hold you back from your full potential. If I could figure out a way to reach these young people with my story, maybe I could even have a modest impact on somebody’s future.

Mountain Girls was not specifically written for a young audience, but it is a book for anyone who treasures their Appalachian identity. I doubted most of these young people—who now sat facing me, bored and skeptical, but not talking or asleep—had given much thought to their identity as West Virginians. But I knew something they didn’t yet know: wherever their lives took them, being West Virginian would eventually mean a lot to them.

It was my own longing for the mountains and curiosity about why West Virginia had such a hold on me that led me to write this book. I wasn’t born there, and I moved away at age sixteen, but even though I’ve lived in Michigan most of the past 25 years, I have kept going back to Elkins, wanting to understand more about where I grew up and what it means to be West Virginian.

As a professional writer and personal biographer, I had the idea to write a social history of my childhood home. I originally intended to write about other women, not myself. I planned to interview older women about their lives on mountain farms, about gardening and canning and cooking, about raising children and playing music and “living out” in mountain hollers—to capture a way of life and a body of knowledge that had pretty much disappeared in a single generation. I did some interviews, and I did a lot of reading about West Virginia history.

Then I started to write. And a different story began to tell itself. I found I kept writing about my own life and family and how my experiences in Elkins shaped the independent woman I became. I also wrote about my best friend, Lisa, whose family had lived in West Virginia for centuries before she moved away after college. I wrote scenes from our high school years and present-day stories about our work lives and love lives and trips back home to drive the mountain roads and eat beans and cornbread.

I still wrote about other women, too, about our mothers and our peers and women’s choices in the past and present. I also wrote about the Scots Irish settlers and the origins of old time music and the ecology of the Monongahela National Forest and the role of West Virginia in the Civil War.

The book took shape slowly over ten years, while my life and Lisa’s life continued to change even as we looked to our childhood home for help in making sense of who we had become. In the end, Mountain Girls emerged as a combination memoir and social history that introduces West Virginia to outsiders and taps into a deeply shared story for those who know the region best.

Did those teenagers care about any of this? Well, who can really say? But I told them about my life as a self-employed writer, and I read to them about being a good friend, and I tried to describe what West Virginia means to me now. I hoped to encourage a sense of pride and a belief that they could do whatever they want. They asked a few questions, and a teacher assured me afterward that the students had been unusually attentive. Well, at least none of them fell asleep.

WV map

Excerpt from Mountain Girls:

West By God Virginia.

I’ve been telling people in Michigan about my recent trips to West Virginia to reconnect with my hometown, my old friends, and new stories of old places.

“Hope you have a great trip to Virginia,” says a woman who has known me for years.

“How was Virginia?” asks another woman upon my return to Ann Arbor. We’re shopping at Zingerman’s Deli—Ann Arbor’s coolest and priciest fancy food store.

“I was in West Virginia,” I say, as I dip a piece of baguette in a tasting cup of extra virgin olive oil. I know that correcting people’s minor mistakes in conversation is awkward and unkind, but I do try to clarify “West Virginia” when they get it wrong. I can’t figure out if most people have never heard that one of the fifty states is called West Virginia, if they don’t see the need to distinguish between the two states, or if they just can’t believe that’s the place I mean.

If it sinks in that I’m talking about a different state from Virginia, and which state that is, their faces suddenly change like they’re thinking, “You grew up in that place of inbred hicks and barefoot children and black lung? How did you make it out of there?” Maybe, as we’re standing together buying aged balsamic vinegar and cocoa-dusted almonds, it’s easier for them to imagine me growing up in Richmond or Norfolk or Alexandria.

West Virginia writer John O’Brien describes having the same experiences during the years he and his wife lived outside of the state. He found that while people often didn’t know anything about West Virginia, or thought he was talking about western Virginia, they did know about Appalachia, and the images of poverty and hillbillies the term tends to conjure. He deemed such conversations an “odd confusion in the background of our lives.”

When I have tried to bring clarity to such confusion, some people simply wave off the distinction between West Virginia and Virginia. The West doesn’t seem to register at all, as if I just tried to distinguish between Roquefort and bleu cheese. I want to point out that West Virginia seceded from Virginia and really doesn’t have anything to do with that other state of urban riches, Atlantic coastline, and southern charm. But I don’t know if I should remind them of the Civil War, when West Virginia managed to become its own state, while never seeming to embrace its Yankee status … for example what about the fact that my junior high school was built on Robert E. Lee Avenue? Or that southern accents and sausage gravy flow freely among the folks of West Virginia?

History has revealed that the people of this region were by no means in agreement on the matter of separating, or even particularly opposed to southern priorities. After all, the new state’s constitution did not outlaw slavery or free the slaves living there. And when the war started, many young men left their homes in western Virginia to join with the Rebels. If they were lucky enough to return after the war, they found themselves living in a new state.

Consider Stonewall Jackson. When I was a teenager, I went to a weekend church camp every fall at Jackson’s Mill, a historic property near Weston, West Virginia, that belonged to the family of General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. A huge portrait of this famous soldier in his Confederate uniform hung over the fireplace in the dark meeting hall, looking down on us campers as we ate spaghetti at long wooden tables. West Virginians continue to honor him as their own, because he was born in Clarksburg and grew up at Jackson’s Mill. But Stonewall Jackson always considered himself a loyal Virginian. During the war, he begged to be transferred back to his home territory to roust the Unionists from what had become West Virginia.

Today, West Virginians celebrate Stonewall Jackson and other vestiges of southern heritage without any apparent identity crisis. It’s as if they dare outsiders to say they can’t be both loyalist and rebel. Why can’t they have southern charm and northern hospitality, southern grit and northern wit? Having it both ways means they don’t have to accept either way. They can simply be a unique people, somewhere between, not of, the north or the south. Wild and wonderful. Hip holy rollers. Refined rednecks. Living atop the Cultural Continental Divide.

When I was a child, I jealously defended my state from Yankees who called it southern. Long before I understood the social, historical, and political identities of the South, long before I knew much about the Civil War, I was a staunch defender of West Virginia to outsiders from farther north. I thought the weather would demonstrate the difference. “We aren’t southern,” I used to say. “It’s too cold. School is always being called off for snow days.” Perhaps I felt that paying the dues of harsh winters gave me the bragging rights of a northerner.

But I had no particular sense of a northern identity, either. I simply always wanted to be West Virginian. And I wanted others to see that West Virginians were not what those outsiders imagined. We didn’t all go barefoot and have coal mines in our backyards, as some kid at a camp in New York asked my sister. We ate fast food and listened to cool music and bought Chuck Taylors if we wanted them. As a teenager, I was awakening to what the rest of the world thought of my beloved state, but I wasn’t ready then to stand up for its unique culture. I wanted to prove we were just like everybody else.

A few years ago, I was watching television at home in Ann Arbor the day Martha Stewart was released from a prison in West Virginia. I noticed that every time the news media mentioned her prison stay, they always noted its location. Do you think they would have done that if the prison had been in New York? (Of course, even if the media had repeatedly said it was in New York, no New Yorker would have cared.) But I think it sounded to the reporters like extra punishment to send the queen of hand-made wreaths and elegant table settings to serve her time in unclean, backward West Virginia, where Martha was appalled to discover she couldn’t get a fresh lemon.

Today, I purposely tell people I’m from West Virginia because I like how it sounds. Although being a native-born Floridian is in itself unusual, there’s nothing much interesting about saying I’m from Florida or from Michigan. I like being from somewhere unexpected and unfamiliar. It’s the same mystique about West Virginia that other people disdain that makes me proud—and therefore complicit in rendering West Virginia abnormal. Similarly, I want to use the state to hide from outsiders while simultaneously ensuring that West Virginia is acknowledged by them. No wonder everyone else is confused. . . .

I’m sitting in my home office when the phone rings. I can see on the caller ID that Lisa is calling. Even though I’m anxious for new clients to call, I’m relieved to see it’s just her.

I pick it up and say, “Hey.”

“Hey. Guess what? I got my passport in the mail today.”

“Excellent.”

Lisa is planning her first international trip, and it is her first-ever passport. I’m excited about her plans to see Europe with some friends. I’ve been twice to Europe, once as a child with my mother and once for a semester in college, so I’ve had a passport since I was eleven.

“So I opened the passport,” she says, “and guess what they have as my state of birth?”

“Oh no.”

“Virginia!”

We laugh—a familiar, despairing laugh. We’ve heard this joke before.

2 Responses

  • Excellent blog, Stephanie! So much of it resonated with me. As a woman from West Virginia, oftentimes I’ve also often had to make the geographic distinction.

  • Kim says:

    You and Marie are excellent ambassadors for West Virginia. Keep spreading the word!

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‘Liberty Mountain’, new play about Battle of King’s Mountain, set to premier

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 28, 2014

Robert Inman PhotoPlease welcome guest author Robert Inman. The novelist, playwright and screenwriter is a native of Elba, AL and a graduate of the University of Alabama (BA and MFA-Creative Writing). He is the author of five novels: The Governor’s Lady (2013), Home Fires Burning (1987), Old Dogs and Children (1991), Dairy Queen Days (1997), and Captain Saturday (2002). He’s also penned Coming Home: Life, Love and All Things Southern (2000) and The Christmas Bus (2009). Inman has written screenplays for six television motion pictures, two of which have been “Hallmark Hall of Fame” presentations. His script for The Summer of Ben Tyler, a Hallmark production, won the Writers’ Guild of America Award as the best original television screenplay of 1997. His other Hallmark feature was Home Fires Burning, a 1989 adaptation of his novel. Inman has penned eight stage plays, including two musicals — Crossroads, The Christmas Bus, Dairy Queen Days, Welcome to Mitford, A High Country Christmas, The Christmas Bus: The Musical, and The Drama Club. His most recent play is Liberty Mountain, a drama about the Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain, which premiers in October, 2014 in Kings Mountain, NC.

 

1780. The American Revolution has dragged on for five wearying years, and is now at a stalemate. There have been victories and defeats on both sides in the New England colonies – Bunker Hill, Saratoga, Lexington, Concord, Trenton, Monmouth. But victory eludes the combatants. The British under General Clinton firmly hold New York, but little else. George Washington’s Continentals are unable to force a decisive battle.

“Gathering of the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals,” by Lloyd Branson, 1915. The painting shows numerous people, mostly militiamen, dressed in uniforms and buckskin clothing, gathered on the banks of a river. Hills and a fort can be seen in the background. Tennessee State Museum Collection, 1.893

“Gathering of the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals,” by Lloyd Branson, 1915. The painting shows numerous people, mostly militiamen, dressed in uniforms and buckskin clothing, gathered on the banks of a river. Hills and a fort can be seen in the background. Tennessee State Museum Collection, 1.893

It is a complex and frustrating situation for King George III and his military. The long campaign, stretching back to the French and Indian war, has sapped the royal treasury. Parliament grows increasingly restive. And now the French have entered the fray on the side of the Americans. The King has vowed not to give up the Colonies. But how to resolve the situation? The answer: Go South.

America’s southern colonies have, until now, mostly escaped the worst ravages of the war. There have been battles and skirmishes by forces loyal to the king and those who advocate independence, but nothing on the scale of the New England campaigns. The Carolinas are mostly peaceful and increasingly prosperous.

The new British strategy: invade South Carolina. Capture Charleston and drive north, establishing strongholds, attracting what’s expected to be an outpouring of loyalist sentiment and arms. Once South Carolina is subdued, continue into North Carolina, then to Virginia. Trap George Washington’s army between the British forces moving north and those coming out of New York in a decisive battle that will end the revolution.

It almost worked, and would have except for Kings Mountain – a story being re-told 234 years after the fact in a new stage drama, Liberty Mountain. With a world premier scheduled for early October, 2014 at the Joy Performance Center in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, the drama will be repeated every summer in the future.

Liberty Mountain banner

Liberty Mountain is told in the lives of the frontier families who settled the Carolinas in the early days of American history. They were predominantly Scots-Irish Presbyterians, immigrants from Northern Ireland who came with a chip on their shoulder, victims of hardship and poverty they blamed on British landowners.

Thousands moved to America, many of them to the Carolinas, in hopes of building new lives, raising families, worshiping as they pleased.
Many held strong allegiances to King and Crown, many supported the drive for an independent America. But many were content to just be left alone. It was not to be.

In May, 1780, it appeared the British southern strategy was working splendidly. Charleston had fallen and three thousand Continental troops had surrendered. Another huge defeat followed at Camden, and by now, there was no such thing as a Continental Army in the south. The British commander, Lord Cornwallis, reported to London that South Carolina was firmly in his hands, that Patriot resistance was crushed, that Loyalists were flocking to the King’s cause.

By October, it had all turned to dust. British brutality and arrogance made Cornwallis and his allies their own worst enemies. Loyalist bands, little more than outlaws, murdered Patriots and looted and burned their homes and farms. A British legion massacred Patriot militiamen trying to surrender after a battle in the Waxhaws region of North Carolina.

Rather than being crushed and subdued, the Backcountry regions of both Carolinas were enraged and up in arms, staging successful guerilla raids and defeating British and Loyalist units in a series of pitched battles.

But if blame for the turning of the tide can be laid at the feet of one man, it is British Major Patrick Ferguson. On orders from Cornwallis, he recruited and trained a force of Loyalist militia in the area around Ninety Six, South Carolina, then marched them north. Cornwallis captured Charlotte, and prepared to move further north with Ferguson in control of his left flank.

Death of Major Ferguson at Kings Mountain, 1877. Image ID: 808799, Courtesy Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection/New York Public Library

Death of Major Ferguson at Kings Mountain, 1877. Image ID: 808799, Courtesy Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection/New York Public Library

Ferguson perceived his main threat to be from the area known as the Overmountain Territory, across the Appalachians in what is present-day Eastern Tennessee – a land settled by fierce and fiercely-independent frontier families, veteran Indian fighters. Ferguson sent a message: lay down your arms and swear allegiance to the King, or I will cross the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste to your homes.

It was Ferguson’s fatal mistake. A thousand of the frontiersmen quickly organized and set out on a grueling journey across the mountains in search of Ferguson. They were joined by militia units from both Carolinas, and on October 7, 1780, they found Ferguson and his force camped atop Kings Mountain. Achieving complete surprise, they surrounded the mountain and attacked uphill, fighting Indian-style, using rocks and trees for cover. Within an hour, it was over. Ferguson was dead and his entire force destroyed – hundreds killed and wounded, the rest taken captive. The Patriots lost 28 killed and 58 wounded.

Historians agree that it was the turning point in the Revolution. Cornwallis, his flank exposed, beat a hasty retreat from Charlotte. There were other battles in the ensuing year – a Patriot victory at Cowpens, a draw at Guilford Court House that left Cornwallis’s force decimated. And it ended finally with his surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.

The play, Liberty Mountain, will tell the story through the lives of the men, women and children who lived through these harrowing times. A cast of more than fifty will portray characters on both sides of the conflict and explore their tragedies and triumphs. The play premiers the first two weeks of October, 2014 under the direction of theatre professional Caleb Sigmon. The first month-long summer production is scheduled for June 26, 2015.

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Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 27, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with guest author Robert Inman. “Historians agree that the Battle of King’s Mountain was the turning point in the American Revolution,” says the novelist and playwright. Inman has just completed a new stage play, Liberty Mountain, which brings to life this riveting story 234 years later. The play is set to premier in early October at the Joy Performance Center in Kings Mountain, NC.

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

“It was not until I was in my 30’s and was working on a research project for my Master’s degree that learned about the majority of the books considered Appalachian Children’s Literature,” says guest author Jamie Osborn. “I was mad that no one in the educational systems I was educated in exposed me to any of this literature. However, I funneled my anger and frustration into research that would first become my Master’s Thesis at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, and now has become the new museum exhibit Reading Appalachia: Voices from Children’s Literature at the East Tennessee Historical Society.”

We’ll wrap things up with guest author Lauren Steele of Coca-Cola Consolidated. “In the early 20th century,” he tells us, “thousands of Coca-Cola wall murals decorated the fronts and sides of buildings in the downtowns of American cities, big and small. But over the decades most of the once-gleaming signs faded and many became almost unrecognizable. Others were destroyed or painted over.” Coca-Cola Consolidated is spearheading a movement to repaint the murals in a number of Appalachian communities, hoping to help revitalize faded downtowns and rekindle civic pride.

And thanks to the good folks at Berea College’s Southern Appalachian Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Shorty McCruiston in a 1965 recording of Soldier’s Joy.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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Book Excerpt: ‘Black Blue Bloods’

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 25, 2014

Christopher E WilliamsPlease welcome guest author Christopher Emil Williams. Williams has recently published Black Blue Bloods — Legacy of an African American Plantation Owner, the true story of a freed South Carolina slave who at the age of 33 bought his own 700-acre plantation. “I wanted to be the first with a story like this, it is real and it’s my own family story,” said Williams, who already has a contract for a documentary movie. And if you’re near Spartanburg, SC today, join the Spartanburg County Historical Association from 12:30-1:30 pm as it hosts Williams in the west conference room at Chapman Cultural Center for a Lunch & Learn event. Williams will discuss his new book and the journey of discovery that led him to write it. Tickets will be available at the door: $5 for entrance to the event or $15 for the event and lunch. Visit www.spartanburghistory.org/tickets to purchase in advance, or reserve at Spartanburg Regional History Museum in person or by phone at (864) 596-3501.

 

I was raised as a child in Fountain Inn, SC on my grandparents’ 100-acre farm. The farm is part of a village-like area of relatives, extended relatives and close friends called “The Mt. Carmel Community.” My family moved away when I was about age 4.

When I came back after finishing college, I continued to document my family history. In search of that sense of family and identity, I did extensive research based on oral history and actual courthouse documents that dated back to the late 1700’s.

Black Blue Bloods cover

Records show that the farm I lived on as a child was only five miles away from a 575 acre plantation my great-great grandfather owned. Believing my family was poor, it was a big surprise to me to learn that family members still owned some of this land today.

My great-great grandparents, Mack & Caroline Saxon [shown on the book cover], were some of the richest people, black or white, in this region at that time. Not only did they race horses, they owned over a dozen businesses including a fairground, built a Julius Rosenwald school and Mount Carmel AME Church, had sharecroppers and servants, and have a surprising connection to the Kennedy family. What was supposed to be a 25-50 page pamphlet to be given out at reunions about the family history, has become a historical account called Black Blue Bloods — Legacy of an African American Plantation Owner.

 

From Black Blue Bloods:

Some of the Saxons thought they owned Mount Carmel AME Church, like my great uncle Andrew. He was nicknamed Cap and his wife Lizzie was called Sis. Even though their home was farthest from the church, they often walked to Mount Carmel every Sunday.

Cap was one of the most head strong and opinionated of the Saxons and after service or any church event he would always have to give everyone his opinion. Cap and Lizzie lead the choir in singing all the hymnals. As Annie Saxon Williams said, “The piano player always sounded like she had a bunch of cats walking across the keys! The singing wasn’t much better either because Aunt Lizzie and Cap sang like two crows!” She said the ones that could sing the least always sang the loudest.

Cap always wanted to be the big boss. He always had to voice his opinion about what he did and didn’t know. In the AME church the bishop is over each state and the presiding elder controls each district in the state. Elder Robinson was the new presiding elder at the time and when you get a new presiding elder this person would visit the churches in his district.

Clyde and Maggie Fowler Saxon, the author’s grandparents. Photo courtesy the author.

Clyde and Maggie Fowler Saxon, the author’s grandparents. Photo courtesy the author.

During this visit the presiding elder came to what the church called quarterly conference and at the conference certain reports were given. Cap was like the boss of the church and he did not know Elder Robinson and Elder Robinson didn’t know him. One of the members was giving their quarterly report and when reports were given the presiding elder would say if the report was acceptable or if it needed to be amended.

The one instance while a report was being given and the elder was responding, Cap jumps up and starts arguing with the elder. In front of God and the church they argue back and forth for at least five minutes. The presiding elder sat there patiently but after a while he had enough of Cap. As Annie Saxon Williams would say, “It’s hard to remember all the words to the argument. But I do remember him saying to Cap, you might be the old barn yard rooster but Mr. Saxon if you mess with me I’ll pluck your feathers!”

That’s the first time in the history of Mount Carmel that the congregation saw Cap shut up and be at a loss for words. It kind of startled Cap in a way and everyone wanted to laugh. Cap had never been talked to that way before by anyone. Cap knew Elder Robinson didn’t take any stuff and he met his match.

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