Published: January 26th 2012April 11th 2011
Model of a sharecropper shack, from the Museum of the New South
The South, as a whole, worships the past. Historic sites
, historic houses, and historic reenactments
Most of these have a curious feature: They remember events either before 1865 or after 1940.
There is a reason for this.
The years in between were very painful
; a seemingly unending stream of economic misery, political corruption, and social repression.
The region was first run as a virtual colony of the northern states, and then as the fiefdom of a conservative elite (many former Confederate officials).
This willing blindness is very unfortunate, because the events of those days have had long after effects, many of which are still felt.
The Museum of the New South
in Charlotte is trying to change this.
With some notable exceptions, it succeeds well.
Museum of the New South
The first section discusses the economics of the South immediately after the Civil War.
Slavery was gone, but newly free blacks had no resources.
Plantation owners still held virtually all of the land.
The owners came up with a system called sharecropping
They would lend landless blacks (and many poor whites) the
necessary tools, land, and seed needed to raise crops.
In return, the farmer would give a percentage of their harvest as payment.
This percentage was often has high as 75%!
If sharecropping seemed too onerous, one could rent land directly and then set up credit at a local general store to get supplies.
Payment was due after the harvest.
Since the risk of default was high, store owners charged interest rates of 20% or more.
Most store owners earned money from this system; very few farmers did.
Small farmers had no real chance of making a living, but they were technically free.
The next section discusses politics during this time.
It can be politely described as an uncompromising look at uncompromising people.
Reconstruction was wealthy whites’ worst nightmare.
Blacks and poor whites, people who had never participated in government in large numbers before, now ran it
There were black city councilors, black Congressmen, even black sheriffs.
Poor whites formed the Populist Party
, which campaigned for free schools, state sponsored research to improve farming techniques, and usury laws to limit interest.
Wealthy whites, as
Sit in Lunch Counter
Lunch counter that was the secene of a sit-in, from Charlotte. The monitors show videos of people who participated
former Confederate officers and government officials, were prohibited from voting.
The former Confederates believed they would be permanently frozen out of government unless they did something.
Unable to win back power legally, they turned to techniques
that were highly effective during the slavery days: propaganda and terrorism.
Former Confederate officers led by Nathan Bedford Forrest
formed the Ku Klux Klan
, which began a campaign of burnings and lynching across the South.
Wealthy whites, as they obtained pardons and regained the right to hold office, created campaigns filled with tales of corrupt government officials, Northern manipulation, and the terrors that awaited under Negro rule.
The two efforts often overlapped; nothing would stir a Southern white audience faster than the tale of a recent lynch mob directed at some Negro troublemaker.
The tactics worked, and former Confederates soon regained power in all Southern states.
Once in power, they quickly passed laws to solidify their rule and recreate the stratified society that had existed before the war.
The basic ones disenfranchised the poor, both black and white.
Payment of a tax
was required to vote.
Start Finish Line Crosswalk
A crosswalk painted like a race start-finish line, outside the NASCAR hall of fame.
seemed pretty minor, until one realized it was due in the spring, when poor farmers needed every cent they had to buy supplies. Literacy tests
were even more insidious.
In the basic test, the county registrar read a passage from the US Constitution, and asked what it meant.
I hope it’s obvious that if the applicant supported the same things he did politically, the registrar chose a fairly easy one, otherwise he chose something so obscure only a legal scholar could get it right.
The great omission from this section of the museum is an explanation of why the reconstruction governments failed to stop any of this.
They had to have known that people were being terrorized and killed every day.
The usual explanation is that whites were too fearful of blacks to cooperate with them, but I suspect there is more than that.
This era has had far reaching effects in the South, so this is the museum’s greatest shortcoming.
On the national level, the reason is fully known.
The presidential election of 1876
produced a split result among many allegations of vote fraud
Car belonging to Red Byron, the first champion of the Grand National (now Cup) race series
in Southern states.
The parties agreed to compromise, giving the presidency to the Republican Party in return for a promise of no interference in Southern states.
The next section deals with industrial growth.
Southern businessmen resented the fact that their cotton was turned into cloth in New England, giving that region most of the profits.
Originally, this had to be done for practical reasons.
Cloth manufacturing needs a specific range of temperature and moisture; otherwise cotton fiber refuses to bind into yarn.
When one Willis Carrier patented a device called an “air conditioner
” in 1906, that problem was solved.
Southern businessmen started setting up textile mills
The museum has a sample of a book one of them wrote to teach others how the business worked.
The museum does NOT mention one particular reason the South was so attractive to the textile business.
Mill workers in New England had successfully unionizedin the late 1800s leading to higher wage costs, the conservative Southern governments promised the new investors that the same thing would never happen there, and their destruction of the Progressive Party a decade earlier provided the proof.
Fabulous Hudson Hornet
This car, driven by champion driver Herb Thomas, was the model for Doc Hundson in Cars
The display does have a section on labor conditions.
It makes rather clear that owners, having learned from New England, did everything possible to control their workforce.
Mills were built away from existing towns so workers were isolated.
They had to live in company owned housing so losing one’s job also meant losing their living quarters.
Owners also made is perfectly clear what the alternative to working for them was, going back to farming and nearly starving.
And, of course, they had cozy relations with local governments.
All of this showed itself when a local Communist affiliate organized workers throughout North Carolina and called a strike in 1934
It remains one of the largest strikes in US history.
The owners and government officials responded with force, firing strikers, bringing in replacements, and using the National Guard and private detectives to keep the mills open.
The strike finally collapsed.
The effects of this event are still felt, as North Carolina is still the least union friendly state in the US almost a century later.
The next section covers urbanization.
As businessmen became
The most dominant car in Nascar history
In 1967, Richard Petty set the records for most wins in a season (27) and most consecutive wins (10), which no other driver has ever come close to challenging. He set them in this racecar.
wealthy from industrialization, they seeked to make their cities equal to those in the North.
They may have lost the war, but they could be winners in this arena.
These promoters were called Boosters, from their habit of relentlessly promoting the positive aspects of their region and downplaying everything else.
The exhibit itself shows the phenomenon, in that the negative aspects of city growth are mostly ignored.
It concentrates on the new conveniences of the era, such as barber shops, auto dealers, and the Belk Brothers department store (although the original Charlotte store has closed, the chain
now occupies malls throughout the Southeast).
The final part currently open to the public is on the Civil Rights movements
of the 1960s.
This is one of the best parts of the entire museum.
It tells the experiences of the era through local residents who lived it.
There is a sample of the white (brand new) and colored (so old it barely works) drinking fountains.
It has a lunch counter that became the site of a sit in, with videos of the people who did it talking about it years later.
Jimmy Johnson's championship car
Jimmy Johnson set a record with five consecutive championships. He used this car while winning his third.
There is a section on Charlotte’s mayor, who quickly forced the city to integrate once he realized it was inevitable, which spared Charlotte much of the violence that happened elsewhere.
Brown vs. Board of Education
Upstairs from the main exhibit is one on school desegregation.
Everyone knows about Brown vs. Board of Education
What were the costs of bringing that lawsuit?
As it turns out, quite a lot.
This exhibit tries to explain it.
The final lawsuit was actually created by merging four separate suits, one of which came from rural South Carolina
It was started by preacher Joseph Armstrong DeLane simply to get better supplies.
The school for blacks was a one room building where teachers put boards across the desks to make space for the most people.
It was separate, but definitely not equal.
The first part talks about the idea of the suit, and what it meant for the people who signed on to it.
They knew going in they were going to anger local whites, and those whites were likely to retaliate.
They were so frustrated
Nascar's first rule book
The rulebook for the initial season. Yes, this is the entire thing.
at local conditions, and the preacher’s ideas were strong enough, they felt the risk was better than what they had at the time.
If only they knew.
The suit lost in federal court, but one of the three judges, Walter Warring, wrote a bitter dissent that became the basis of the Supreme Court appeal.
For this act, none of his former friends would speak to him, and the South Carolina legislature passed a bill appropriating enough funds for a one-way plane ticket anywhere in the world, to be presented as a gift on the condition he never return to the state!
The appeal got the attention of the NAACP, and they took up the case.
For the appellants, things got much worse.
Townsmen set up a group called the Citizens Watch Society.
Members of this society refused to do business with the lawsuit members for any reason.
They would not even sell them food!
Eventually, local blacks became dependent on donations.
Of course, the local church was burned to the ground, along with many homes.
People received death threats (the one which is
Car from the 1979 Daytona 500
One of the two cars from the famous Daytona 500 crash in 1979. This one belonged to Donnie Allison.
reproduced notes that the Citizen Watch will use any means necessary to run people off, “including dynamite if it comes to that”.)
Eventually, the leaders were brought up on fake charges, convicted in a show trial, and forced to flee.
None of them ever returned to South Carolina.
By then, the suit had made it to the Supreme Court.
It’s named after Brown because this plaintiff was located in Kansas City, and the NAACP wanted to show that desegregation was more than just a Southern issue.
The display discusses the legal arguments in detail.
One was a sociology test in which black and white children were shown dolls of different colors and asked which was better.
Every child, regardless of ethnic background, chose the white ones.
As everyone knows, the NAACP won.
The final section is what happened afterward.
Actual integration was much messier than just winning a lawsuit.
It was quick in some places, took decades in others, and in some places never happened.
In certain rural counties people set up private schools that only wealthy whites could afford.
Model race car
Race car cut into pieces to show how it works.
this day, these schools are mostly white, while the public schools are mostly black.
In certain cities, the schools are effectively segregated because they use neighborhood assignments, and neighborhoods are heavily segregated.
The end of bussing for racial balance has increased this effect.
Overall in the South, a little over 30% of non-white students attend schools that are at least 50% Caucasian.
The final item in this exhibit is a room for reflection.
The questions are simple ones.
If you, the visitor, lived in South Carolina back then, what would you have done?
Knowing the price, would it be worth it?
The room makes the point that these questions come up all the time in different contexts.
NASCAR Hall of Fame
My other major item for today was the NASCAR hall of fame
As noted a week ago (see Racin’ With the Good Ole Boys
), I’m something of a fan.
The hall is where NASCAR celebrates itself.
The building has three parts, a history museum, what amounts to a stock car theme park, and the actual hall.
The museum portion is very
Jeff Gorden Diecast cars
Nascar fars are known for collecting memorbelia. This is just a fraction of the Jeff Gordon diecast cars collected by Charlotte Simpson.
It states with what they call glory road.
It’s a display of winning cars in chronological order, displayed on a ramp that gets steeper as it goes, to show the banking of different tracks.
The oldest car is the winner of the very first NASCAR race in 1948, by Red Byron
The newest is one from Jimmy Johnson
, who won a record fifth consecutive championship last year.
The ramp at the bottom is flat.
The ramp at the top is the 36 degrees of Talladega
, which is so steep it’s impossible to stand on it without aid.
After that, the museum goes though Nascar’s history with almost obsessive detail.
Stock car racing started with moonshiners
During Prohibition, people distilled illegal whisky in the Appalachian hills, and then hired daring drivers to race the cops and deliver it.
The museum has a complete moonshine still, contributed by champion driver Junior Johnson
, who really did start his career as a teenage whiskey runner.
The drivers needed something to do during their time off, so they raced each other.
Eventually, promoters noticed this and started setting up
Pit stop gear
Some of the pit stop gear belonging to the team of champion driver David Pearson.
One of these attracted a mechanic and gas station owner from Daytona Beach named William France.
He saw potential in these events, and set up his own race on the Daytona sands.
It paid bigger prizes than most, and soon attracted top drivers.
The sport was still too disorganized to make a living however.
At the time there were many sanctioning bodies that tried to run races, and none did it particularly well.
William France called a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona (which still exists) of people involved in race promotion.
Over many days, they discussed the type of organization that could run races better. Nascar
was the result.
The museum has a photo of the founders, with William France in the middle.
It took a while, but Nascar eventually rose to the top of the race heap.
William France could be ruthless (he oversaw at least one race wearing a pistol on his belt), but he knew how to run an organization.
His races paid well, and (more importantly) on time.
The museum has a copy
Richard Petty HOF plaque
With 200 wins, Richard Petty is Nascar's most successful driver
of one of his checkbooks.
William France eventually decided that Nascar needed a high profile event to attract people.
The logical location was the biggest track in the US at the time, Indianapolis.
The owners of that track responded that they would never let the backwoods hicks of the South run on their precious open wheel racetrack.
William France responded by borrowing every dollar he could find and building a track of his own, Daytona
The very first race produced a photo finish, and Nascar growth began in earnest.
The next big event happened in the early 1970s.
William France retired and his son Bill France (usually called Bill Jr.) took over.
Bill France knew marketing.
R. J. Reynolds had just been banned from advertising on TV, and needed a place to put their ad budget.
Their promotions chief was a good friend of Junior Johnson.
Junior introduced him to Bill France. A deal was struck
, and the premier race series was renamed after Winston cigarettes.
Bill France then made a radical move.
The schedule at that point had 48
Junior Johnson HOF Plaque
Junior Johnson started as a moonshine runner, became a champion driver, and then a highly infuential owner.
races on it, often several a week.
Bill dropped a third of them, and moved the rest to weekends.
With fewer races, each one became more significant and more of an event.
This was the birth of the modern series (although statistics from before then still count. Go figure).
Nascar became more popular, and started attracting the sponsors that are now so integral to the sport.
Nascar was still nationally viewed as a mostly Southern sport, however.
The event that really pushed Nascar into the national consciousness, which did for Nascar what the 1958 Colt’s-Giants championship
game did for the NFL, occurred in 1979.
The Daytona 500 that year was the first race televised in its entirety.
The Northeast had a huge blizzard, so the audience was 50% higher than the network had anticipated.
Nascar told the drivers to be on their best behavior.
The opposite actually occurred.
Donny Allison and Fireball Roberts were in a tussle for the lead on the last lap.
They fought hard, banging into each other repeatedly.
Eventually, they spun out together and crashed.
A fight on the
Dale Earnhardt HOF plaque
Dale Earnhardt won seven championships, becomming a fan favorite. He died in a last lap crash during the 2001 Daytona 500.
track became just a fight
as the two settled their differences with their fists, on national TV.
The final ratings were huge
The museum has both cars involved, and displays the video continuously.
The museum displays for all this are through.
There are uniforms, programs, and entire cars.
They have a copy of the rulebook from the inaugural season (it fit on one sheet of paper).
They have over fifty model Jeff Gordon
cars collected by a fan.
They have the scrapbooks collected by the wife of early champion Tim Flock
They have crew chief chalk boards, used to communicate with drivers before radios became practical.
They have an entire car cut into pieces, to show how the different parts work in a race (especially the safety equipment
They even have the table Bill France used as his desk during the 35 years he ran Nascar.
The theme park portion is a series of activities that simulate the different roles on a race team.
One can race against other participants on a simulator.
One can try to change tires in less than 14 seconds (the limit for real pit crews).
I was short on time by this point, so I skipped this section.
The final part is the actual hall.
Currently, it has only five members [late update: by the end of the trip, it had 15
], because the Hall of Fame is very new.
are William France, who founded the organization; Bill France (Bill Jr), who turned it into a phenomenon; Richard Petty, who won a record two hundred races and seven championships; Dale Earnhardt, a fan favorite who also won seven championships; and Junior Johnson, who won two championships as a driver and eight more as an owner (since he started as a moonshiner, his career represents the entire history of stock car racing).
Each is represented by a display with memorabilia and a brief biography.
A video plays on the walls where colleges reminisce about what it was like to work with each of them.