Legacy Interviews on the Charlotte Region

Belle Banks oral history interview, 2002 January 25
In this interview, librarian and historic preservationist Margaret "Belle" Banks describes her early life in Pennsylvania and Delaware, her move to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1944, and her role in restoring Cedar Grove and the Hugh Torrance House and Store in Huntersville, North Carolina. Mrs. Banks discusses finding work in Delaware during World War II coordinating the construction of naval ships, then meeting her husband, Dick Banks, while working as a waitress. She recalls their move to his hometown, Charlotte, after marriage and talks about some of the cultural differences she encountered between Northerners and Southerners. Mrs. Banks speaks at length about restoring Mr. Banks's family properties, which were built by Hugh Torrance beginning in 1831. They began restoring Cedar Grove one room at a time in 1944, and moved there in 1948 with their young daughter once water and electricity were connected. Mrs. Banks describes how she and Mr. Banks invested much of their income in the restoration of the house, and how she saved the family money by buying secondhand goods and by sewing much of their clothing and home furnishings. She also discusses some ghost stories and legends surrounding Cedar Grove. Mrs. Banks recalls that work began on the restoration of the Hugh Torrance House and Store around the 1970s after the Mecklenburg Historical Association showed interest in the project, and that local architect Jack Boyd helped to get the North Carolina state legislature involved. In conclusion, Mrs. Banks suggests that her husband's motivation for undertaking the restorations may reflect a Southern cultural emphasis on preserving family traditions., Margaret Belle Banks was an 83-year-old woman at the time of interview, which took place at her home in Huntersville, North Carolina. She was born in 1918 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Coatesville High School and was employed as a newspaper writer for the Mecklenburg Gazette, and as a librarian for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Libraries., Banks family papers, 1838-1965. J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections. University of North Carolina at Charlotte.; Torrance and Banks family papers, 1765-1982. J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections. University of North Carolina at Charlotte., Digitization made possible by funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.
Jack Claiborne oral history interview, 2003 June 5
Jack Claiborne, former editor at the Charlotte Observer and former director of public relations at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte), reflects on his life, work, and the city of Charlotte. Mr. Claiborne talks about his childhood growing up on a farm in rural Mecklenburg County, his experiences as a teenager during World War II, and how his interest in baseball and the Charlotte Hornets led him to sports writing and eventually other branches of journalism. Mr. Claiborne discusses his forty year career at the Charlotte Observer, where he is best remembered for his weekly editorial column This Time and Place which ran from 1970-1990. He recounts the difficulties faced by the Observer's first African American journalists and how the paper and newsroom culture transformed during Pete McKnight's tenure as editor-in-chief. As both city editor and Carolinas editor during the turbulent 1960s, Claiborne remembers how the paper's opinions on race, racism, and desegregation were often seen as controversial and provoked angry responses from certain parts of the community. Claiborne eventually went on to become the director of public relations at UNC Charlotte. Here he discusses the growth and development of the university, his time working there, and his beliefs on the importance of the University for the future of Charlotte. Throughout the interview he shares his reflections on the growth of Charlotte as a city, people who promoted change within Charlotte, and some of the major challenges facing the city today.
“Chatty” Hattie Leeper oral history interview 1, 2006 December 11
In the first of three interviews, radio DJ "Chatty" Hattie Leeper discusses her early life in the Third Ward and Brookhill neighborhoods in Charlotte, North Carolina. She describes her family and neighborhood, and her experiences attending the segregated Isabella Wyche Elementary School and Second Ward High School. While Mrs. Leeper speaks favorably about her time in school, she recounts painful episodes with a teacher in high school who would verbally and physically punish her for being shy, and describes how this experience sparked her determination to study hard and succeed in life. Mrs. Leeper discusses moving with her mother to Brookhill Village, where she developed a fascination with radio and began spending time at the nearby WGIV AM radio station around age fourteen. She explains how she organized record albums by genre, answered telephones, and paid gospel singers for performing on a Sunday program, and describes how she was very happy when the radio station began paying her for her contribution.
“Chatty” Hattie Leeper oral history interview 2, 2006 December 12
In the second of three interviews, "Chatty" Hattie Leeper discusses her career with AM radio station WGIV in Charlotte, North Carolina as a DJ during the 1940s-1960s. Mrs. Leeper describes the mix of music and talk played at the station, the types of programming throughout the day, and how the station featured both national popular music and local artists. She describes how the station's employees and listeners were diverse, but the station was characterized as predominantly black, particularly in the early days. While advertisers on WGIV in the beginning were all black-owned businesses, Mrs. Leeper describes how white merchants soon began advertising on the station as well. She discusses the service mission of the radio station in the community and memorable guests on her program, ranging from local Charlotte residents to Ike and Tina Turner. Mrs. Leeper also recounts how she got her start as a DJ while a sophomore in high school.
J. Henry McGill oral history interview, 2002 November 21
J. Henry McGill was a 99-year-old man at the time of interview, which took place in the McGill Rose Garden in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was born in York County, South Carolina, on August 7, 1903. He was educated at Trinity Park School (Durham, North Carolina), Erskine College, and Smithdeal-Massey Business College (Richmond, Virginia); and was employed as a banker and oil distributor., J. Henry McGill, a Charlotte businessman who with his wife Helen founded the McGill Rose Garden, recounts his life and the development of the garden. A native of York, South Carolina, Mr. McGill moved to Charlotte as financial instability began to afflict rural areas in the lead-up to the Great Depression. After a period working in Charlotte's fragile banking industry, McGill saw a better opportunity in the growing ice delivery business and took a position with the City Ice Delivery Company. In 1950 he purchased the Avast Fuel & Ice Company, along with the property that would one day become the McGill Rose Garden. Mr. McGill explains that the property was an old coal yard, located in a desolate and crime-ridden industrial area in the North Davidson neighborhood now known as NoDa, which galvanized his wife to plant roses in an attempt to clean up and beautify the property. He describes the positive impact the garden had on the community and its residents as it transformed industrial blight into livable green space and improved the reputation of the surrounding area. Mr. McGill discusses what it means to be an All-American Rose Selection public garden, and the work that goes into selecting and caring for the roses. He details the McGill Rose Garden's current community outreach programs, ranging from basic gardening programs for preschoolers to vocational training for low-risk prisoners. The interview concludes with Mr. McGill sharing his views on the importance of outreach, the need to build connections between the garden and the community, and his hopes that the community can be advocates for the garden when he's gone., Digitization made possible by funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.
Eugene Payne oral history interview 1, 2005 February 24
In this interview, Eugene Payne, former editorial cartoonist for the Charlotte Observer, recounts his family's long history in Charlotte and his military service during World War II. He discusses his educational background, including his time at military school, Syracuse University, and in the United States Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School. Mr. Payne describes the program and school, which was housed in the Prairie State, a converted battleship, and why he ultimately dropped out and returned to Charlotte. He enlisted in the Army Air Force after the United States entered World War II, and he describes his wartime experience as a pilot for navigator cadets at the Army Air Force Navigation School in Louisiana. Mr. Payne also discusses the last few months of the war, when he was transferred to a very heavy bombardment group and trained to fly B-24s and B-29s in the Pacific until the atomic bombs ended the war and his military career. Mr. Payne then discusses his mother's family history in Charlotte, including his great-grandfather Miles Wriston, a prominent local businessman during the mid-nineteenth century. He also discusses the Wristons' long connection to Blowing Rock, North Carolina, which was a favored vacation destination for several generations of the family. Mr. Payne ends by discussing his memories of growing up on South Tryon Street, and of Charlotte, during the 1920s.
Eugene Payne oral history interview 2, 2005 March 24
In this second interview, Eugene Payne discusses his forty-year career as an editorial cartoonist for the Charlotte Observer, his artwork, and winning his 1968 Pulitzer Prize. Mr. Payne discusses the role his mother played in supporting his early love of art and cartoons by ensuring that he could attend lectures and classes at the Mint Museum and take private lessons from visiting artists, including painter Robert Gwanthmey. However, it wasn't until he returned home to Charlotte following World War II that Mr. Payne combined his love of art and politics and pursued a career as an editorial cartoonist. In 1957 he was hired by the Observer's editor C.A. "Pete" McKnight as a freelance cartoonist before becoming the Observer's staff artist in 1960. Mr. Payne describes his process for creating an editorial cartoon each day, and his preferences for topical and local subjects. He also explains that although his political views differed from the Observer editorial page, he never had to produce a cartoon supporting an opinion that he did not believe in, and that ultimately he felt working for a paper with a different editorial perspective than his own had been a positive experience. Mr. Payne then talks about winning the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1968, and describes the background to each of the ten award-winning cartoons. Mr. Payne also discusses his seven years working as an editorial cartoonist at WSOC-TV and the difficulties they faced in trying to bring editorial cartoons to television. He also recounts meeting a number of U.S. presidents--including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford--as a member and former president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. In particular, he shares several stories of LBJ, explaining that Johnson was a big fan of political cartoons and hosted a number of events for the nation's editorial cartoonists during his presidency. Mr. Payne concludes the interview by reflecting on the difficulties facing young and aspiring cartoonists as more and more newspapers rely on syndicated work to decrease their newsroom budgets.
Hila Stratton oral history interview, 2003 June 3
Hila Stratton reflects on her life in Charlotte, her community work, and her activist work with the Republican Party. She first moved to Charlotte during World War II with her husband Dr. David Stratton, who was an aviation medical examiner in the U.S. Army. When he was sent overseas, Mrs. Stratton remained in Charlotte, and she describes life there during the war and her experience as an officer's wife at Morris Field Air Base, which became Charlotte Douglas International Airport following World War II. Mrs. Stratton recounts the many community organizations she's been involved in over the years, in particular the local branch of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Mrs. Stratton discusses her involvement in local politics, including her two unsuccessful campaigns for a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives, detailing what it was like to be a woman running for political office in the late 1960s. Though never elected to office, she continued to play an influential role in local Republican politics, explaining that she was not afraid to take a public stance on the issues and that she considers herself to be a "Progressive Republican." Mrs. Stratton served on the Board of Directors for Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) for eight years and she talks about her experience there and how the school evolved through the 1970s and 1980s. She reflects on how Charlotte has changed as more and more people from outside the South move to the city, and how life for the city's women has changed.
Cindy Thomson oral history interview, 2004 April 1
Cindy Thomson recounts her experiences with the National Organization for Women (NOW) and as a feminist activist in Charlotte, North Carolina. She explains how she became involved with NOW, discusses her role in the development of the Charlotte chapter, and outlines the organization's overall state and local structures. Ms. Thomson describes NOW's social and political outreach to the community, as well as positive and negative reactions that the organization received from the community. She discusses some of Charlotte NOW's biggest issues, including support of the Equal Rights Amendment; the promotion of women to administrative positions in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system; and NOW's long-running battle against the Charlotte Observer's sexist journalistic practices. Ms. Thomson also shares her views on the social and political challenges that women faced in the 1970s, and that they still faced at the time of the interview.