Writer and musician. Emery & McKnight Duo, Cleaver Smith Swenson & McKnight Band. www.itsthemusic.com Recent compositions and songs: "Ninth Street Rag" for clarinet, "In the…
Thank you for your notes and observations about Eastern North Carolina. Here's hoping Triangle readers of Independent can make their own forays "Down East" if they are not already personally familiar with the cities, towns and counties from Laurinburg to Elizabeth City.
The poetic challenge of one 20th Century North Carolina governor to appreciate the special heritage of Eastern North Carolina is before us still in the 21st Century. Gov. J.C.B. Ehringhaus, who was from Elizabeth City, was writing about the special meadows of Northeastern N.C. known as The Albemarle when he compared it to our imaginative fancy of what Camelot must have been like in medieval England, a comparison made all the more interesting when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy suggested Camelot as a metaphoric touchstone for the administration of President John F. Kennedy.
As one who grew up in Charlotte and later attended Duke, I always enjoyed family gatherings in Piedmont places such as Shelby and Salisbury, and we had kinfolk from throughout Western North Carolina and the Piedmont from Marion and Hickory to Burlington and Chapel Hill, but few family ties to Eastern N.C., so I was able to get to know more about the eastern section of the state in these personal experiences from late teen years to age 30:
--Covering Charlotte 49ers "road games" in the old Dixie Conference as a high school stringer for the Charlotte Observer including trips to St. Andrews College in Laurinburg and N.C. Wesleyan in Rocky Mount.
--Scouting Eastern N.C. cities and towns as a reporter on the state desk of The News & Observer in my mid-20s. Back in those days, you had to "go out there and find out what was happening" because, absent some helpful news tips, that was about the only way to report on local government and business from Smithfield to Wilson.
--Doing a cross-state feature for The N&O in the now socially suspect guise of hitchhiker from the coast to the mountains trying to follow in the footsteps of such N.C. newspaper columnists as Jerry Bledsoe of the Greensboro Daily News, J.A.C. Dunn of the Winston-Salem Journal and Jack Aulis of The News & Observer. For my geographical endpoints for this dubious outing (which definitely contributed to a downward slide in my fortunes as a news staffer with The N&O), I selected Duck, N.C., and Ducktown, Tenn., as this featured was headlined: "Duck to Ducktown: A Stitch in Time." But the first installment was called "Stuck in Duck" because I had trouble hitching into Duck from the outskirts of town so that I could then begin hitching west out of Duck! But the best thing was enjoying the Albemarle Sound area while wondering how in the world I would be able to make it from Northeastern N.C. to Southwestern N.C. and on across the Tennessee line to Ducktown.
--Weekend excursions as an editorial writer for the Fayetteville Observer in my late 20s as our paper was still an afternoon daily in the mid-1970s, with an impressive regional circulation in the Cape Fear Country. So on Saturdays we would head out to enjoy unique and colorful Eastern N.C. events such as Mule Days in Benson, the Collard Festival in Ayden, the Shad Festival in Grifton and the National Hollerin' Contest in Spivey's Corner. At these gleeful local celebrations we would witness the best in local business-government cooperative efforts to spruce up hometown life in all those places Down East.
--Campaigning for the U.S. Senate in the wide open Democratic primary of 1978. Talk about the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival of the present time, that senatorial primary was wide open because everybody and his brother (we could have used some sisters in that field too) thought he could be just the guy to take on the Squire of Senatorial Conservatism, Sen. Jesse Helms, in what was to be his first re-election campaign in 1978 after his surprising win over Durham Congressman Nick Galifianakis in 1972. Drawing from the previous journalistic adventure of hitching from Duck to Ducktown, I chose to hike the state in 1977 from Manteo on the coast to Murphy in the mountains to see if I could get a leg up on the competition, which included a stellar field of Democratic hopefuls including two state senators from the Triad, a banker from Charlotte and son of a highly regarded former governor and our state commissioner of insurance. One single highlight of that hike: walking beside cornfields in Wayne County in the spring of 1977 with stalks of corn higher than I was only to learn with regret weeks later that a sustained summer drought was severely depleting the eventual autumn yield of what had promised to be such an abundant harvest for N.C. family farmers in that year before the May 1978 senatorial primary.
So, capsuling my personal, professional and philosophical outlook upon the one section of the state that I had not previously known very well, I would mention these favorable impressions of Eastern North Carolina:
--A deep love of learning among the people, including science, mathematics, classical literature, poetry, dance, music and drama.
--An eagerness to seek out gainful employment along with the upgrading of occupational skills to do a good day's work.
--A robust, good-hearted attitude toward visitors from the rest of North Carolina or from other states and country as to why they took pride in their home cities, towns and counties.
--A full willingness to be part of the supporting cast of the greater public support for all parts of North Carolina including industries, enterprises and technologies trending as "the latest things" on the urban scene in the Piedmont so long as the communities of Eastern North Carolina were not left behind in the investment in public education, environmental protection, employment training and the allocation of state-funded resources for economic development and advancement.
I wish we had as many passenger train connections to those cities and towns with such great future potential in Eastern North Carolina as we do to the cities of the N.C. Piedmont because I would sure book some more excursions "Down East," as Andy Griffith would say, "first chance I get."
Are there other people from Charlotte and Mecklenburg County besides myself who live in the Triangle and read Independent? This progressive weekly does a good job of tracking jurisdictional issues involving the city governments of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, the county governments of Wake, Durham and Orange and the state of North Carolina. Why can't the same journalistic objective be accomplished in regard to municipalities such as Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, Greensboro and Guilford County, Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, Asheville and Buncombe County and Fayetteville and Cumberland County?
Because Independent seems to be unwilling or unable to research these issues "from a distance." It's like a variation of the old tree-in-the-forest acoustical scenario, only in our case in the Triangle, it's: We're not there, but when a tree falls there, it probably does make a noise but we don't trust any other journalistic sources in those areas to describe the noise for us and our readers here in the Triangle.
If you're an ex-Charlottean or ex-Mecklenburger over 30 and you now live and work in the Triangle, you can probably recall the strong local bipartisan traditions of working across party lines in Mecklenburg County to bring about selected local enabling legislation needing approval by the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh. Working together in the public and private sectors across party lines is what helped Charlotte and Mecklenburg County stay in compliance with the laws of the land and the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court on issues involving desegregation and equal rights in public education, housing and workplace opportunities.
In an earlier era, say any time between the 1950s and the beginning of the 21st Century, with the editorial encouragement of press organizations such as The Charlotte Observer, you might well have seen a combined meeting of the Mecklenburg delegation to the state legislature including both Democratic and Republican members deliberating on a request by the Charlotte City Council or the Mecklenburg County Commissioners along such lines as these: we wish to strengthen our civil rights and civil liberties ordinances on this, that and the other, and we want to do in such a way as to harmonize and be in compliance with all relevant and factual state and local statutory and jurisdictional now in effect politically, legally and constitutionally. How can we advance, for example, city or county protections of gender rights of all members of our community without creating an immediate conflict with the current legislative powers and authority of the N.C. General Assembly?
One or two points of temporary misunderstanding in this matter could have been resolved before the fact rather than putting some legislators from other regions of the state in the position of appearing to reduce or nullify existing state laws and court precedents on these jurisdictional issues.
But beginning in the 21st Century, the new attitudes of the Democratic and Republican parties in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County seemed to move away from bipartisan local and state consultations on such specifically local enabling initiatives and toward reliance on nationalized, partisan positions of the Democratic and Republican parties. In other words, why work in Charlotte and Raleigh to confront and resolve these constitutional conflicts when all we have to do is ask major components of our particular political party to "nationalize" the political debate over this issue or that?
But the Charlotte City Council and presumably the Mecklenburg Democratic Party apparently have made a determination to push the language of this particular ordinance through without any bipartisan deliberations, thus splitting even the N.C. Republican Party on the question of how these confusing or misleading provisions can and should be resolved for the sake of gender equality and protection for the people of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and, by extension the state of North Carolina.
Meanwhile, during this hour of crisis, Charlotte's liberal allies in everybody's favorite Southeastern city, Atlanta, say to North Carolina: sorry about your political problems but we'll certainly take that NBA All-Star Game off your hands, thank you.
This would be a good time to survey the overall political terrain on the question of how liberal-minded people in North Carolina are treated by supposedly liberal interest groups at the national level.
It seems to me frequently--and also in the case of H.B. 2--that some of the very people and organizations who are trying to do the most to advance equality and fairness under the law here in North Carolina are often the very folks targeted by national liberal groups purporting to act on behalf of equal rights and individual liberty and dignity for all.
Why would a performance at the annual Eno River Festival of all places be canceled in the name of national quest for justice and equality? The Eno River community is home to some of the most principled and committed groups and individuals in the cause of equality, environmental protection and respect for individual citizen diversity in all the South.
Then in my hometown of Charlotte, which supposedly is being supported locally in the face of adverse political action at the state level in Raleigh, our dear Southeastern urban neighbors in Atlanta are just itching to wrest the NBA All-Star Game away from the Queen City of the Carolinas. That's being a good neighbor, seizing upon a difficult situation which may yet be resolved successfully to take away an important event from the city of Charlotte for Atlanta to host as if only Atlanta and not Charlotte has been a leading major civil rights community since the 1950s.
Well, we realize that even if we feel that "we can work it out," Ringo is doing what he thinks is right in canceling his scheduled concert in Cary. And the Boss is going to skip a date in Greensboro and Guilford County, historically the geographic and political home of this state's most vigorous defense of civil, constitutional, religious and political liberties in the legacies of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Rights of the N.C. Constitution.
But as the late Merle Haggard liked to sing in the country song lyrics first penned by Lefty Frizzell:
"That's the way love goes."
Interesting that "Le Quattro Stagioni" ("The Four Seasons") would be tagged ignominiously by Independent as a "tired old" work of classical music. Talk about a piece being "ahead of its time," methinks we're still catching up to this masterpiece by Antonio Vivaldi, who having been born seven years before Bach and Handel was "really out there" in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
For anyone who has never attended a concert to hear a performance of "The Four Seasons," just go sometime and see if you are not impressed and amazed. Or just ask orchestra and chamber musicians what goes into rehearsals and preparations for rendering this composition in an artistically impressive and pleasing manner!
Of course, there are many excellent recordings of "The Four Seasons" which are aired by WCPE, "the Classical Station," over in Wake Forest (including a recent release by German violin virtuoso Anne-Sophie Mutter from her "Live Club" album from the Yellow Lounge in Berlin). Indeed, in case you haven't noticed, classical music old and new enjoys quite a following in North Carolina and across the country as evidenced by listener choices on the station's Saturday request program. And not just in the largest cities but in small towns as well.
In fact, just last weekend, a request for a work by the 20th Century Russian composer Aram Khatchaturian was made by a listener in Greene County in the heart of Eastern North Carolina. Now this request came not from a beaming metropolitan mecca such as Goldsboro, Kinston, Rocky Mount or Wilson but straight from the county seat of Greene County, Snow Hill.
So even in Greene County, there is a great appreciation for traditional classical music during all "Four Seasons" of the year, which should come as no surprise in a county known for exotic "fish stew" banquets by the mystical shores of Contentnea Creek. Who knows, maybe one day some chamber music ensemble will present a compelling program of "Corelli by the Contentnea."
In the meantime, if you get the chance to go out and hear one of the concertos or orchestral works of "Il Prete Rosso" ("The Red Priest"), Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741), take this advice from a long-time Triangle fiddler: don't you dare miss it!
In the case of the comments by Representative Graham of Robeson County, are you willing to tell us whether these were made in a sit-down conversation in an office, in a telephone conversation or through some other means of communication? Was the legislator given an opportunity to prepare a basic statement, or was he just trying to piece together some responses to your questions as you went along, say, in a telephone conversation?
In many newspaper summaries of spur-of-the-moment conversations and comments, the "uhs" and "ums" are often edited out or at least reduced in frequency. If people are trying to meet you more than halfway by answering your questions on the spot, either in person or on the phone, it would seem ethical not to go out of your way to make their comments seem unduly faltering in nature unless these were occurring in an official press conference or other formal query.
I raise the question because Independent really pushes this idea that outside of the Triangle area, rank-and-file North Carolinians really don't have much to offer when it comes to political dialogue about important state issues. What advantage accrues to Independent to try to make the rest of the state look bad?
Where there is preliminary misunderstanding about a piece of legislative or a political statement, I wish you would first help to clarify the situation for all parties--political, journalistic, academic and otherwise--before pouncing on those whose initial reactions were simply out of concern about the inadequately defined status of certain persons with respect to privacy rights in restrooms for families with small children and others.
You seem to have a real impatience toward and intolerance of "conservative Democrats" and rural N.C. politics in general, which of course is not very helpful to more moderate and liberal Democrats running for statewide office, hence you should take note of the all-Republican state government rosters we have now and ask yourselves if this is the way you want to go in the next four years.
I play a lot of music for children at my various events. I am not a "children's singer" or "children's storyteller" per se like you might see at a variety of public entertainment venues, and I am also not a school teacher. But I am very jealous of the privacy rights of the children, including toddlers, for whom I play violin and guitar in various settings. So I join many others in wishing to get a better clarification and understanding of the pre-emptive measures brought into play by the liberal Democratic majority running the Charlotte City Council in my own hometown, where we once had a strong tradition of mutually respectful bipartisan civic and political discussion of all governmental proposals and activities.
You should look into the removal of so many good and philosophically liberal Democrats serving in Charlotte city government carried out with little public explanation by the new mayor of the Queen City of the Carolinas. She could learn a little tact from the mayor of Raleigh.
The state attorney general should spend part of his political campaign energies helping people to understand the actual specific issues and helping us to resolve our differences rather than just posturing for political advantage as the Democratic nominee for governor. Furthermore, in the journalism community, we need a good overall discussions of the constitutional duties and responsibilities of the state attorney general in all N.C. legal proceedings, and not just involving the Governor's office but indeed all members of the N.C. Council of State.
How about an Independent one-on-one interview with Rufus Edmisten on these important and sometimes misunderstood topics? Edmisten has served as N.C. attorney general and N.C. secretary of state and also was the Democratic Party nominee for governor in 1984. He might be able to clarify a number of the points of contention in this escalating controversy.
David Proctor McKnight
Democrats need to regain their traditional sense of political teamwork in trying to win statewide offices at the top of the ticket such as U.S. senator, governor, lieutenant governor and the rest of the Council of State. This was the tradition of courthouse-to-White House Democratic unity campaigns from FDR and Harry Truman to JFK and LBJ although the most recent three Democratic presidential administrations (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) experienced surprising political difficulties in congressional relations especially with member of the House within their own shared Democratic Party organizations.
So whoever the nominees are for the Democratic Party in North Carolina this year for these top state offices, regardless of their race or gender, need to decide if they would rather run separate "solo" campaigns or team campaigns dovetailing with campaigns for Congress, the N.C. General Assembly and all other state and local campaigns across the state.
Most especially, the Democratic U.S. Senate campaigns in this state since, say, 1986 when Terry Sanford won election to the Great Deliberative Body by fully involving the campaigns of other Democratic candidates at every stop along the way, have tended to become "showcase" campaigns, that is, drawing a lot of media attention and party financial support to these individual senatorial candidates almost exclusively apart from the rest of the Democratic slate. Good luck with this approach! In U.S. Senate campaigns in 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2014, N.C. Democrats won two elections and lost seven.
And the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should absolutely not take sides in U.S. Senate primaries in North Carolina because the DSCC is in effect targeting three bona fide N.C. Democratic Senate candidates for defeat before the nominee is even chosen.
Just to close this post with one example of a lack of teamwork in a general election campaign, in 1990, one of our finest Charlotte political leaders, Harvey Gantt, won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, but he faced the challenge of expanding his support among more rural voters in the mid-sized and smaller counties in the state. Now right under the name of Harvey Gantt on the 1990 general ballot in four of the state's 100 counties--Mecklenburg, Iredell, Lincoln and part of Yadkin County--was the name of this writer as Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 9th Congressional District. Two years earlier in the 9th District Democratic congressional primary in 1988, our campaign won 65 per cent of the vote in Lincoln and Yadkin counties and 70 per cent of the vote in Iredell County (including the cities of Statesville and Mooresville).
So in the fall of 1990, as the Democratic Party nominee for Congress, there we were trying to bring our good support from three of Charlotte's more rural neighboring Piedmont counties to the table not just for our own effort but also for the U.S. Senate candidacy of Harvey Gantt. So what does the Gantt campaign do? They completely take over the 9th District Campaign Rally, one of many such events organized by the N.C. Democratic Party specifically for congressional candidates all across the state to help boost the campaigns of Democratic Party nominees for Congress. I mean, there were only about a 100 events dedicated to helping the U.S. Senate campaign in 1990--with no governor's race or presidential campaign that year--and in this one district, you had a congressional campaign which in 1988 had swept every precinct, urban and rural, in three surrounding counties and was trying to show these Mecklenburg County neighboring delegations that there was indeed a place at the table for them in regional and statewide politics at the party's own congressional rally in Charlotte, only to be rebuffed with the message, in effect, that campaigns such as the one for Congress and other state and local offices, were entirely expendable and maybe even detrimental to the cause of winning a statewide U.S. Senate race!
Good luck winning Senate races that way!
With C-SPAN there ready to cover the proceedings, the Gantt campaign dictated that Harvey Gantt would replace the duly nominated congressional candidate as the featured speaker at the 9th District Congressional Rally and that the actual congressional nominee's previously planned five minute address would have to be scrapped though they did permit 45 seconds to say a few words. I only wish C-SPAN still had a video from that night because all my good liberal friends in the Triangle could clearly see how a sustained grassroots effort to bring rural voters to the banner of the Democratic Party for the sake of the entire party ticket, including the campaign for the U.S. Senate, was thwarted by the managerial selfishness of leading Charlotte political insiders who couldn't resist the chance to take over an event organized for a U.S. House campaign, saying in effect: all you people from Lincolnton, Mooresville, Statesville and Yadkinville, just go on home but don't forget to vote Democratic.
This would be like holding a regional Democratic unity rally in Raleigh or Durham and telling folks from Henderson, Oxford, Roxboro, Hillsborough, Sanford, Apex and Fuquay-Varina, to just sit there at your table and eat your barbecue but don't ask any questions.
So these are strictly mechanical "problems out in the field" that the N.C. Democratic Party has been experiencing for a quarter of a century now, and perhaps the able and visionary N.C. Democratic Chair Patsy Keever, who knows a thing or two about grassroots political campaigning out there across this state, can prod the party's VIPs to make a place available for the committed, dedicated and principled local precinct and county volunteers and officers who do the local real "blocking and tackling" on tough issues in behalf of Democratic candidates for public offices from county commissioner and the state legislature to the two houses of Congress, the Council of State and the governorship of the Old North State.
David Proctor McKnight
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