You are here
City Government in Charlotte
SINCE its birth two hundred years ago the crossroads village that was once known as Charlottetown or Charlotteburg has grown into the largest city in the Carolinas and one of the most important industrial and distribution centers in the nation. One of the distinctive features of this growth has been the thoroughness with which newcomers have been assimilated. An observant writer once said: "One adopts Charlotte ways or one does not, in which latter event, one soon moves on." And many did, both native born and newcomers. Charlotte actually lost about one-third of its population between 1830 and 1850. At the end of the Civil War, however, Charlotte was one of the first towns to catch the vision of an industrialized South. Hydroelectric power from the Catawba River made it the heart of a large textile area, where its business leaders were working energetically to attract new and diversified industries.
Notwithstanding acceptance of the new industrialism, older residents had a tendency to cling to the past. Modern Charlotte was considerably behind other Southern cities in relenting before mounting pressure for open Sundays, legalized liquor and the liberal behavior pattern which followed World War I. It was not until June 4, 1941, that the City Council, defying the vociferous opposition of the die-hard group, passed, by a vote of 8 to 3, an ordinance permitting Sunday motion pictures and outdoor sports.
In strange contrast to Charlotte's reputation as a church-going center are its persistently high crime rate and traffic death toll. Remedial measures for this state of affairs are among the most discussed subjects at meetings of religious, civic, and study groups.
For a city of its size, Charlotte may still be described as conservative, but not unreasonably so. Twenty years ago a research specialist, reporting on Charlotte's governmental affairs, wrote: "The state tax limitation for parks and recreation necessitates the present niggardly budget of $22,000, but it is unlikely that the council would be willing to appropriate more if it could." The 1960-61 budget of the Charlotte Parks and Recreation Commission was $768,044.25. The same earlier authority said, "The city has no swimming pool . . . there are no city hospitals etc." Today, there are three swimming pools and the 352 bed and 36 bassinet Memorial Hospital. If more need be said, consider the mildness of Charlotte's shock over the Supreme Court's desegregation decision, and the city's graceful acceptance of the solution to public school integration devised by local school authorities.
The history of the city began in 1767 when a courthouse was built in Mecklenburg County, where the Catawba Trading Path crossed the trading route of pioneer settlers. On November 7, 1768, the state assembly created the town of Charlotte in "An Act for Establishing a Town in Mecklenburg County." This act, which was equivalent to Charlotte's first charter, required less than two printed pages, whereas the present city charter fills forty-two pages, supplemented by a Code of Laws requiring about 600 pages. The quaint, original charter reads, in part, as follows:
"I. Whereas it has been represented to this Assembly that 360 acres of land granted to John Frohock, Abraham Alexander, and Thomas Polk, As Commissioners for the County aforesaid, for erecting a courthouse, prison and stocks; which 360 acres was afterwards laid off into a town of commons . . . on some of which good and habitable houses have been erected, and that by reason of the healthfulness of the place aforesaid and convenient situation thereof for trade, the same might become considerable if it was erected into a town, by lawful authority."
With some slight alterations, such as changing the title of the Chairman of the Commissioners to Intendent and, later, to Mayor, the commission form of government established by this enabling act was used until the Civil War. During this war, a few volunteers acted as patrolmen, and these were followed for a few years by the Federal troops occupying Charlotte. It was in the beginning of this latter period that a town official was thoughtful enough to close the city's books and hide them until some time after the war. The entry in Minute Book 3, Page 38, of the town council, reads:
"No further meetings of the board were held after March 23, 1865, events culminated so rapidly. Most of the store houses in town were filled with sick Confederate soldiers sent from Virginia and elsewhere to get out of the way of the advancing Yankee army.
"The town books and papers were sent off to the country, the clerk betook himself to the woods with the valuables of the Bank of North Carolina, Richmond fell, Lee's army surrenders, Johnston's army surrenders.
"The Confederate President and his cabinet held their last meeting in the Br. Bank Building in Charlotte, then departed Southward and the Confederacy was at an end." The minutes were signed by T. W. Dewey, town clerk at the close of the Confederacy.
Following the withdrawal of Federal troops, an aldermanic form of government was adopted with aldermen and mayor elected by the people. The number of aldermen varied from time to time, reaching a total of twenty-two in 1907. Political reforms, necessitated by Charlotte's industrial growth, were accomplished by a change from the aldermanic to commission form of government in 1917. At that time, three commissioners replaced an assortment of elected officials which included the mayor, twenty-one aldermen, the city clerk, tax collector, and water commissioners.
While the commission form worked well in comparison with the preceding aldermanic government, it failed to keep abreast of the needs of a growing city. In 1929, by a vote of 4,436 to 2,496, a city manager and council plan of government was instituted, whereby a professional city manager was employed to execute policies and instructions issued by a board of seven elected councilmen. Hardships imposed by the depression of 1929-1933 shook the faith of many in the city's new form of government, but during the incumbency of Mayor Ben Douglas, 1935-1941, a City Manager James B. Marshall, faith was restored, and has since been happily maintained.
The boundary lines of the original 360 acres which the first commissioners governed were, roughly, Brevard Street on the east, Poplar Street on the west, Seventh Street on the north, Third Street on the south; in all, about seven-tenths of a square mile. Slowly and not at all steadily, the city has grown to its present metropolitan status:
Sq. Miles .75
Population Est. 450
Density/Sq. Mile 608
*City limits first registered in 1815.
Sq. Miles 1.68
Density/Sq. Mile 634
Sq. Miles 2.23
Density/Sq. Mile 3,769
Sq. Miles 12.76
Density/Sq. Mile 2,664
Sq. Miles 19.36
Density/Sq. Mile 4,270
Sq. Miles 29.79
Density/Sq. Mile 4,499
Sq. Miles 65.10
Density/Sq. Mile 3,095
These extensions have brought into the city many real estate subdivisions which once ringed the city. Dilworth, Charlotte's first adventure into suburbia, was built by Edward Dilworth Latta. The Elizabeth section, including Elizabeth Avenue, was named for Mrs. Ann Elizabeth Watts, wife of a Durham tobacco magnate, and mother of Mrs. Charles B. King. It was Mrs. King's husband who founded a Lutheran college, largely with funds provided by his father-in-law, and named it Elizabeth College in honor of his mother-in-law. The name was given to the residential area that grew up around the college. Myers Park was once the farm of Jack S. Myers, while Eastover was given its euphonious name by the developer, Mr. E. C. Griffith. The Belmont section takes its name from an ancient spring which was a popular picnic ground, but no one knows why the spring was originally named Belmont.
Seversville was named for the Severs family, early residents of the vicinity. Biddleville grew up around Biddle University, named for early benefactors, members of the Biddle family of Philadelphia. The institution was later renamed Johnson C. Smith University. Wilmore honors Messrs. Wilson and Moore, two Charlotte mayors who formerly owned the property. Wesley heights was named for a church which, in turn, took its name from a former favorite pastor. Chantilly was named by its developer, Paul Chatham, for a province in France, but no special significance seems to be attached to the names of most sections.
Charlotte was late in acquiring a separate building for the use as a city hall. Few early officials devoted their entire time to municipal affairs and, quite naturally, performed such duties wherever most convenient. In 1879 the city clerk had an office in a building next door to the courthouse which then fronted on Trade Street at the northeast corner of Church Street. At the time the mayor had a small office on East Trade Street in a building which housed the Hornet Fire Company, the city's first fire-fighting force.
During the 1880's the building (demolished in 1960) at the northwest corner of Tryon and Sixth Street came to be known as the City Hall and housed the city clerk, tax collector, Police Department, and city jail. In 1891 a new city hall was built on the southeast corner of Tryon and Fifth Streets, and served until the present building at 600 East Trade Street was occupied in 1927.
Like the government of Mecklenburg County, the government of the city of Charlotte has not only been free from scandal, but the men who have held office have been conservatively energetic in handling the city's affairs. Regardless of honesty or ability of successive officials, however, Charlotte, in common with other North Carolina cities, has very little home rule. Officials must work under an outmoded legal and constitutional system which requires the state legislature to authorize all acts of consequence involving municipal affairs.* When the new city hall was built, a special act of legislature was necessary in order to sell the old building, even though the proceeds were to be applied to the cost of the new.
*When the Public Library was offered an opportunity to publish this history, a special act of the legislature was needed to amend the Library's charter.
In the early years of organized government in Charlotte, all policing, fire fighting, and road building were on a voluntary basis or on assignment by the commissioners. Whatever revenue the town received came from the sale of lots and the imposition of fines and penalties. The first city tax was levied in 1824 when each male was required to pay "$1 in lieu of street work." The next year a tax of ten cents was levied on each $100 worth of property, and in 1839 license taxes were required of grocery stores, liquor dealers, merchants, peddlers and entertainment groups. Thereafter, taxable items and rates were fixed annually to meet the needs of a town which grew very gradually until about 1900, more rapidly for the next few years and with breathtaking speed after 1940.
As succeeding governmental bodies were confronted with the necessity for providing new services, there have been instituted various departments, commissions, and authorities.
Charlotte City Government in 1961
Charlotte is governed by a council-manager system. The council, or legislative body, is composed of a mayor and seven residents, elected for two-year terms by voters of the city in odd-numbered years. The council member receiving the largest number of votes becomes by custom the mayor pro tem. These positions are sought and held through other than financial motives since the annual salary of the mayor (1960) is $3,600, and that of councilmen $1,200 per year.
The mayor is the titular head of the government, serves as official representative of the city, and presides at council meetings. He makes appointments to boards, commissions, and other positions authorized by the city charter. The council sets the policies, in open weekly meetings, under which the city government operates, and appoints a city manager at a 1960 salary of $17,500 annually, whose duty it is to carry out the policies.
The city manager has authority to appoint and dismiss all department heads and employees except those appointed by the council. (Job titles and salaries in 1960 were as follows: City Clerk, $7,092; City Accountant, $9,250; Collector of Revenue, $8,500; City Treasurer, $9,000; City Attorney, $10,600; Judge of Recorder's Court, $9,750; City Solicitor, $7,500; Judge of Domestic and Juvenile Court, $9,750.)
City employees and advisors work under or for departments, commissions or boards, and authorities. The chief administrative departments are police, fire, building inspection, health,1 engineering, motor transport (garbage collection and street cleaning), taxes and licenses, and water.
The principal boards and commissions, all members of which serve without compensation, are: Airport Advisory Committee, Boxing and Wrestling Commission, Electrical Advisory Board, Fireman's Relief Board, Health Advisory Committee, Park and Recreation Commission,2 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Adjustment, Civil Service Commission, Redevelopment Commission.
The following are responsible for municipally owned properties but conduct their affairs separately and apart from the city's other financial operations: Mecklenburg County Board of Education,3 Memorial Hospital Authority,4 Rehabilitation Hospital Board,5 Charlotte Housing Authority, Auditorium-Coliseum Authority,6 Veterans' Recreation Authority, Board of Trustees of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.7
1. See Chapter 11.
2. See Chapter 12.
3. See Chapter 5.
4. See Chapter 11.
5. See Chapter 11.
6. See Chapter 9.
7. See Chapter 5.
On November 15, 1933, four members of the notorious Touhy Gang from Chicago robbed a mail truck of $120,000 in one of Charlotte's most spectacular crimes. This case skyrocketed Chief of Police Frank N. Littlejohn to national fame when his discovery of a Chicago laundry ticket near the scene of the crime led to the arrest of the gangsters and recovery of some of the money.
Such spectacular crimes are not "normal" for Charlotte. But Charlotte people are responsible for more than their share of heinous crimes, as explained below. The following news item is reprinted in full from the Charlotte Observer from February 28, 1960:
"MURDER RECORD LOOMS. Charlotte, which set a 19 year record for murder in 1959, is off to a fast start this year.
"Five people have been murdered here so far. At the same point last year, only one murder had been committed.
"The greatest proportion of Charlotte murders are classified as 'crimes of passion,' and usually are the result of a fight or sudden outburst of temper.
"And, in the past, weapons used have varied.
"But all of the five people killed this year have died of gunshot wounds.
"In 1959, 33 people were murdered here. This set a record topped only in 1940, when the Queen City became known as 'the murder city' of America.
"Harassed policemen investigated a total 46 murders in that year."
The great proportion of such crimes are committed by Negro citizens. An analysis would undoubtedly disclose that the Negroes who commit crimes of violence are not much more improved educationally or economically than they were as slaves, a condition to be regretted and corrected as speedily as possible. To some degree it was unavoidable in a locality impoverished by the Civil War and Reconstruction. Charlotte's prosperity is of comparatively recent origin. In like manner, the high rate of crime among white persons in Charlotte most certainly is influenced by the group experiences responsible for the violence of their reaction to all patriotic, religious, and other human emotional situations.
Modern police protection began with the organization of a Police Department on January 11, 1866, with an Intendent at $1,000 per year, and eight patrolmen who were paid $50 per month. There were no appreciable changes until 1901 when sixteen additional patrolmen were employed. Since then, the growth in both equipment and personnel has been rapid.
Today the Charlotte Police Department consists of six divisions: Patrol, Traffic, Detective, Juvenile, Research, and Training. There are approximately 300 officers with minimum monthly pay of $300, 30 civilian employees, 40 patrol cars, 25 motorcycles, a patrol wagon, and a mobile crime laboratory. Since 1925 the Police Department has occupied its own building at East Fourth and Alexander Streets, adjacent to City Hall.
The American LaFrance fire engine, now on display at 1903 East Boulevard, served as Charlotte's most useful piece of fire-fighting equipment from about 1896 until 1925. No phase of life in Charlotte has as much sentiment attached to it as that of the volunteer firemen. The memories crystallized by the old fire engine will never die for those who experienced the excitement of fire fighting before the days of motor vehicles.
From the founding of Charlotte until late in the nineteenth century, all fire fighting was done by volunteers. The most important days in each year to firemen were those upon which the annual Fireman's Tournament was held in the various cities of the state, for staging contests between all types of equipment. Few events in the world of sports today can compare with the excitement of steam fire engines, drawn by charging steeds in double or tripple harness, racing over the prescribed course, belching flames and smoke; the fast hose coupling and plug connecting by the hose companies, the rapidity and hazard of the climb up extended ladders, or the speed with which reelmen raced on foot to the finish line, where unwound hose was coupled to the "plug" and the dramatic yell given for "Water." The climax of each tournament was the grand parade of all equipment, bands, celebrities: participating firemen in the traditional red belts, blue shirts, metal hats, and other regalia of the fire-fighting profession, proudly displaying trophies won in past events.
No one who has heard the eerie sound of the midnight alarm tolled by the belt in the courthouse yard will ever forget the tense moments that followed, while the awakened populace counted the taps of the bell in order to locate the section of town from which the alarm originated; nor the ear-splitting, staccato blasts as the flames became visible to the first locomotive engineer, and the din as other engineers spotted the danger. It was the custom until well along in the twentieth century for locomotive engineers to awaken the populace whenever and wherever a burning building was seen, a custom credited with saving many lives, especially in rural sections. Volunteer firemen were men of strong sentiment and proud of their organizations. A few are still around to indulge in spells of nostalgia when reading of the activities, in outlying sections of Mecklenburg, of organizations similar to the old-time fire-fighting units in the city.
Some of these senior ex-firemen still gather around fire stations on summer afternoons to regale their highly trained and expensively equipped successors with accounts of past incidents and achievements. A favorite story concerns Neptune No. 2, a hand-pumped fire engine which was perhaps Charlotte's first piece of fire equipment. After serving from 1866, first with a white unit and then with the Negro "Neptune" unit, until 1891, the engine was sold to Marblehead, Massachusetts, for $100. In 1906 it was resold to Westfield, Massachusetts, for exhibitions and tournaments. At Westfield, this sturdy piece of equipment suffered the most humiliating experience possible when it burned in a fire which consumed the garage in which it was housed.
Charlotte's most dramatic fire story has to do with the burning of the Belmont Hotel, upon which occasion Neptune No. 2 saw its last local service. This fire, in 1891, occurred on a night when the temperature was near zero. After fighting most of the night, firemen had to cut away the ice which had formed on the front of the building, in order to get at the flames beneath. All through the day and far into the second night the Neptunes and other volunteers fought to subdue the flames.
The Belmont Hotel fire was notable for the series of fatalities that followed in its wake. The woman who overturned the lamp which started the fire was burned to death. Mr. Cul Eagle received a broken leg by falling over a piece of lumber, from which injury he died. One Negro fireman smashed an egg in the pocket of a brother fireman who whipped out a pocket knife and sank it in the jugular vein of the offender, causing almost instant death.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, July 1, 1914, Charlotte lost its only fire chief to be killed in action. Chief J. H. Wallace and Captain W. B. Glenn died instantly when powder exploded in the burning barn of Contractor John B. Hawkins on South Cedar Street. Three other firemen were injured. This accident was recalled on July 9, 1959, when exploding chemicals injured a number of firemen in a building being demolished at 300 Templeton Street.
Among Charlotte's disastrous fires, the largest occurred January 7, 1864, when the Confederate Depot and Ammunition Warehouse was burned with an estimated loss of ten million dollars. On December 17, 1922, the six-story Trust Building at 212 South Tryon Street, housing the Academy of Music and many offices, was almost completely burned, as was the three-story building next door occupied by Brockmann's Book Store. Charlotte's most horrible fire occurred March 15, 1940, when the Guthery Apartments on North Tryon Street burned, killing eight persons and injuring six others. Of all Charlotte fires, the most spectacular was that of the 54-year-old, block-long Southern Railway Freight Station, June 24, 1954.
Such distinctive names as Hornet Steam Fire Engine Company, Pioneer Steam Fire Engine Company, Independence Hook and Ladder Company, Neptune Hand Fire Engine Company (Negro) and Yellow Jacket Fire Engine Company (Negro) are gone now. They have given way to prosaic Station No. 1 through Station No. 12 in 1960. Personnel has increased from not more than twenty-five volunteers to 352 in 1960. Equipment now consists of about twenty engines of various types, six ladder companies and fourteen miscellaneous pieces. The first piece of motor equipment was acquired April 1, 1912.
W. Hendrix Palmer, fire chief from 1927 until 1948, was president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in 1940, and his successor, Chief Donald S. Charles, president of the same international organization in 1957.
Charlotte Water Supply
Before 1900 Charlotte's water, which now comes from the Catawba River, originated in a spring-fed reservoir of two small lakes on land which is now Independence Park. Later, water from Sugaw Creek was pumped into the reservoir and from thence into a tall standpipe in the rear of the courthouse, then located on the northeast corner of Trade and Church Streets, where the Selwyn Hotel now stands. Facilities were increased form time to time to meet the growing needs of the city. A huge filtering plant was built just beyond Johnson C. Smith University, at the highest point in the city; today the city's water comes through one of the most modern filtration plants in the South, on Oakdale Avenue.
A little more than a year following passage of the United States Housing Act, the Housing Authority of the City of Charlotte was created with five members, sworn in by Mayor Ben. E. Douglas on December 7, 1938. On February 16 following, Harold J. Dillehay was appointed executive director, assuming office March 1, 1939, a position he has since held with marked success.
The first project of the Charlotte Housing Authority was the securing of a loan of $2,104,000 with which Piedmont Courts, for white families, and Fairview Homes, for Negro families, were built. Later, with passage of the National Housing Act in 1949, an additional loan was secured for construction of Belvedere Homes and Southside Homes.
Charlotte—Mecklenburg Planning Commission
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission was established September 8, 1954, at a joint meeting of the City Council and Board of County Commissioners. The new organization succeeded the Charlotte Zoning Commission which had been in operation since June 1946. William E. McIntyre, a professionally trained planner, became the first Planning Director and has since served with distinction, employing several trained assistants whose duty it is to chart the physical growth of Greater Charlotte.
Zoning Board of Adjustment
In accordance with the requirements of the state enabling act covering property zoning, the Charlotte Board of Zoning Adjustment, consisting of five members, was created June 28, 1947. On January 28, 1956, the membership of the board was increased to ten, five members from the city and county, a provision made necessary by the forthcoming annexation of a huge perimeter area by the city.
A concurring vote of four-fifths of the members present at any meeting is necessary to reverse any order, requirement, or decision made by the Chief Building Inspector.
Created July 10, 1944, and administered during the first fifteen years by Thomas J. Revelle, Superintendent, the Pet Department of the City of Charlotte serves society by protecting the interests of pets, especially dogs, of which there are more than 40,000 in Mecklenburg County. As of 1960 the Pet Department enforces a City Ordinance of eighteen sections, and for that purpose requires an executive office in the City Hall, an animal shelter on Shuman Avenue, and personnel consisting of a superintendent, four day wardens, one night warden, three clerical workers, two cleaners, and one night watchman.
The presidential election of 1928 will serve to tell a lot about the political and social make-up of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Democratic nominee Alfred Emanuel Smith, lawyer, governor of New York State, acknowledged liberal, was a foe of prohibition and a Roman Catholic. The Republican nominee was Herbert Clark Hoover, mining engineer, Secretary of Commerce during the Coolidge administration, conservative personally and by political inheritance, and Protestant (Quaker).
Charlotte, in common with the rest of North Carolina, hadn't voted Republican for nearly a generation and was in no mood to do so in 1928. The city was predominantly Protestant; in fact; it had been only a few years since the people had first permitted the employment of a Roman Catholic as a teacher in the public schools. Fortunately for the collective Protestant conscience of the community, there was also the question of the repeal of the Eighteenth (Prohibition) Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. So, no Protestant had to vote against Al Smith because of his faith. Smith advocated repeal of the Prohibition Amendment and Charlotte was a dry community, notwithstanding the two favorite cliches of the day are said to have described voters who "voted dry as long as they could stagger to the polls," or "voted dry and drank wet."
Smith was badly defeated in North Carolina and in Charlotte. In the state the vote was Hoover, 348,923; Smith, 286,227. In Mecklenburg the vote was Hoover, 12,041; Smith, 9,690; and in Charlotte, Hoover received 8,941, Smith, 7,082.
The campaign divided the Democrats of Charlotte into two armed camps, figuratively speaking. The battle of words was fought furiously for weeks on local platforms, through the mails, in newspapers, and otherwise. Words were spoken that would have severed forever life-long friendships almost anywhere except in Charlotte where, fortunately, passions are quickly heated and almost as quickly cooled. The great depression, coming just a year later, hastened the process of reconciliation when all thoughts were turned to the relief of community miseries.
Sufficient time may now have elapsed for those who made some of those hasty and harsh statements at that time to forgive the inclusion of a few of them here. They are needed for the sake of accurate reporting and to shed light upon certain characteristics of the people. The following brief quotations are representative of very many which appeared in both Charlotte newspapers for weeks preceding the election.
In the Charlotte News, Friday, November 2, 1928, seventy-two of Charlotte's most prominent Democrats paid for a full page advertisement which carried their names and in which the following lines, typical of the whole, appeared: "Protest against the whispered campaign of hate, bigotry, intolerance and misrepresentation that is being waged in behalf of Mr. Herbert Hoover."
The opposition came back with a page in the News signed by one hundred Democratic men and women, of equal prominence, who also signed their names and headed "The County that Braves a British King will never cringe 'neath a Tammany lash," and which read, in part: "We resent to the depths of our being the insult to the intelligence and integrity of the Democratic men and women . . . which was contained in the full page ad which appeared in Friday's News.
The following day the News carried another full page advertisement, signed by a leading attorney who was one of the signers of the page published Friday. Excerpts from this page: "You either willfully or ignorantly misrepresented history in your 'hymn of hate' against the supporters of Al Smith . . . you grossly slander the patriots who signed the Mecklenburg declaration of independence, May 20, 1775, when you compare yourselves to them . . . they rebelled against the British King in order that they might have religious liberty. You have rebelled against the Democratic party's nominee in order that he and his followers may not have religious liberty." Which shows that Mecklenburgers, as in 1775 or in the 1960's, are capable of strong feeling and powerful argumentation.
With a singleness of purpose, but with frequent differences as to methods, the area's pioneers and their descendants have molded the governmental structures and laws under which they live and have lived. An article in the Charlotte Observer for November 1, 1959, and an editorial in the same paper of December 7, 1959, described accurately how this has been done.
Captioned "Old time city fathers harassed too - Blue laws are chronic Council pest," the article of November 1, 1959, reads "Blue Laws have given Charlotte City Councils troubles as far back as the city's records go. And city records show no blue law has ever lasted in any form more than a few years.
"But they also show that total repeal has been a long time coming even though several close votes have barely saved the blue laws. Minutes of Council meetings also show that the ministers or ministers' organizations have been the principal supporters of blue laws.
"One of the first references to blue laws in the city's records was on January 15, 1866, when the board of aldermen passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of whiskey, beer or wine on Sundays. Three years later an ordinance was passed closing barber shops on Sunday. The sale of cigars and tobacco on Sunday was banned in 1877 and, although there were protests against the move, the ordinance was not repealed.
"Special laws concerning observance of Sunday reached something of a peak in 1880 when an ordinance prohibiting any manner of work or sporting event was passed. The history of blue laws since that time is simply one of naming exemptions, making laws more liberal. And there was a fight at every turn.
"It was during the 1930's that the issue began to appear more and more frequently. More demands for exemptions and more demands for repeal appeared. Sunday baseball and Sunday movies took the spotlight. Pages of minutes are devoted to these subjects and to the delegations which appeared before the City Council.
"By early 1938 enough demands for Sunday recreation were heard and some restrictions lifted. The old minutes show that the same arguments were made at the time that were made at public hearings on October, 1959. All so-called 'Blue Laws' were abrogated on November 2, 1959, though Sunday amusements for profit cannot begin before one o'clock in the afternoon on Sunday."
The editorial of December 7, 1959, in the Observer is captioned, "Another Local Controversy Marks the Tide of Progress," and reads: "To the long-time observer of Charlotte's turbulent history, the current fuss about overhanging street signs stirs nostalgic memories.
"Few, indeed, are the worthwhile civic improvements that have not been accompanied by hassles before the City Council, complete with delegations and the lawyers hired to speak for them.
"It dates way back, but there was actually a terrific hue and cry when the underpass on E. Trade Street was constructed. Merchants vowed they'd be ruined.
"Through the years other public furors were stirred up by the widening of Morehead and Graham streets, the selection of a site for Douglas Municipal Airport, the routing of Independence Boulevard (critics said it would never be used. Hah!), a ban on country buttermilk, taxicab meters and rates, any number of parking bans on busy streets, liberalizing the blue laws, ABC Stores, the first zoning ordinance, efforts to eliminate street name duplications.
"Somehow, the city managed to struggle through these great issues, all of them argued emotionally and vociferously at the time. And few thoughtful citizens would now undo a single one of the improvements.
"So it is that we feel not unkindly toward the small group of merchants who are in a last-ditch fight against the ordinance requiring them to tear down signs which overhang the sidewalks in the main business district.
"They are acting in historical character and they will make their views known to the City Council today, as they have every right to do.
"It does not follow, however, that the Council should do more than give them a courteous reception. However sincere and well-motivated, they are a minority, and a small one. Beyond that they are short of vision, for it is in their own long-range interest, to make the central business district as trim, uncluttered, and as visually attractive as possible. Elimination of the garish and blatant signs, many of which lose their effectiveness entirely because of the competition from others, will do much to attain that objective.
"The ordinance was passed two years ago. It is a good ordinance. There has been ample time for compliance.
"We urge the protesting merchants to accept the Council's decision in good spirits and with full understanding that this temporary hardship for them will be in the best interest of the whole Charlotte community."
Elections in Charlotte
Municipal elections in Charlotte are, for the most part, nonpartisan, though for many years a candidate who had been prominent in state or national Republican politics has been at a considerable disadvantage, to say the least. In state and national politics Charlotte and Mecklenburg usually follow the statewide pattern, but with some variations. For instance, in the Republican landslide of 1928, the Republican candidate for Congress from the Charlotte district, Charles Andrew Jonas, was one of the two Republican congressmen elected from North Carolina. He displaced Alfred Lee Bulwinkle, Democrat. Bulwinkle was re-elected to his old seat in Congress in the next election. Upon his death he was succeeded by Hamilton C. Jones, Democrat, of Charlotte, who was, in turn, defeated by Charles Raper Jonas, Republican, son of the Republican representative in 1928. Since his election in 1952 Jonas has been the only Republican from North Carolina serving in Congress, having received the following votes in Mecklenburg:
Jonas 42,845, Jones 32,298
Jonas 21,824, Sedberry 13,291
Jonas 45,686, Douglas 24,544
Jonas 24,245, Clark 22,640
Jonas 49,405, Clark 36,195
Presidential elections in recent years have brought out the facts that Republican political sentiments have been on the increase in North Carolina, and markedly so in Mecklenburg County.
Democrat 18,167, Republican 4,973
Democrat 26,169, Republican 4,709
Democrat 28,768, Republican 7,013
Democrat 25,950, Republican 9,434
Democrat 14,353, Republican 11,518
Democrat 33,044, Republican 44,334
Democrat 27,227, Republican 44,469
Democrat 39,362, Republican 48,250
Democrat 497,566, Republican 208,344
Democrat 615,151, Republican 223,284
Democrat 609,015, Republican 216,633
Democrat 527,399, Republican 263,153
Democrat 459,070, Republican 258,572
Democrat 652,802, Republican 558,107
Democrat 590,530, Republican 575,062
Democrat 713,136, Republican 655,420
Leaders: Past, Present, and Future
One of the mot authoritative lists of men who helped bring the city to its present stature politically and otherwise, prior to 1900 is contained in Volume II, History of Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte, by D. A. Tompkins. The list contains brief biographical sketches of eighty men, of whom the following, mostly members of the legal profession, are best remembered:
Abraham Alexander, who presided over the meeting on May 20, 1775, which adopted the Mecklenburg declaration of independence and who was one of the signers of that document; Colonel Adam Alexander, a signer of the declaration; Captain Ezra Alexander, a signer; Hezekiah Alexander, a signer and member of the Provisional Constitutional Congress; and John McKnitt Alexander, a signer and secretary of the convention which adopted it. Of the twenty-seven signers, five bore the name of Alexander.
Others in Mr. Tompkins' list are: Waightstill Avery, a signer, prominent lawyer and progenitor of many bearing his name who have distinguished themselves in politics; General Rufus Barringer, a native of Cabarrus County who located in Charlotte following the Civil War and became an influential lawyer and citizen; General Daniel Harvey Hill, editor and educator who, like General Barringer, married one of the Morrison girls and, thus, became a brother-in-law of "Stonewall" Jackson; Thomas Jefferson Holton, owner and editor of Charlotte's leading newspaper, The Journal, later Whig (1828-1860); Colonel William Johnston, lawyer and railroad financier; James W. Osborne of Salisbury, admitted to Charlotte bar in 1833 and prominent in civic affairs; Thomas Polk, most prominent man of Charlotte when the town was founded and host to President Washington upon his visit to Charlotte.
When the final quarter of the nineteenth century began, three of the most influential men in Charlotte were W. P. Bynum, Hamilton C. Jones, Sr., and Clement Dowd. Staunch Republican Bynum served on the Supreme Court of North Carolina; Jones, who was severely wounded in the Civil War, served as United States District Attourney; Clement Dowd was a lawyer, president of the Commercial National Bank, and author of a book-length biography of Zebulon Baird Vance.
During the last decade of that century a number of lawyers, who later contributed much to the city's legal and political history, began their practice in Charlotte. In 1892 Charles Walter Tillett, Sr., James A. Bell, Edwin T. Cansler, Sr., Heriot Clarkson, Charles H. Duls, Johnson D. McCall, H. N. Pharr, and George E. Wilson were prominent. Frank M. Shannonhouse and Chase Brenizer began making their mark a few years later. Mr. Brenizer was chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections for many years. Most of these names are to be found among today's leading lawyers in the persons of the sons of these nineteenth century leaders.
Among lawyers who began their practice in Charlotte during the first years of the twentieth century were Thomas C. Guthrie, Sr., A. B. Justice, Thomas LeRoy Kirkpatrick, Frank R. McNinch, Plummer Stewart, Jake Newell, W. F. Harding, Edwin Randolph Preston, John A. McRae, Brevard Nixon, Thaddeus A. Adams, Norman A. Cocke, Robert S. Hutchison, Cameron Morrison, Paul Whitlock, F. Marion Redd, Louis B. Vreeland, and John J. Parker.
By 1910 most of the lawyers who were practicing in Charlotte before the turn of the century were dead. Their places were filled rapidly, as openings were created through the needs of a growing population, by such men as J. Frank Flowers, W. S. O'B. Robinson, James L. DeLaney, Claude A. Cochrane, Edgar W. Pharr, Carol D. Taliferro, H. L. Taylor, Charles Walter Tillett, Jr., W. Hunter Marshall, John R. Kenyon, Miss Julia Alexander, Marvin L. Ritch, Miss Margaret L. Berry (Mrs. Robert B. Street), Henry C. Dockery, and C. H. Gover.
During the 1920's the profession added such able personages as Walter Clark, Jr., D. E. Henderson, Frank H. Kennedy, Uhlman S. Alexander, J. A. Lockhart, Miss Carrie L. McLean, Frank W. Orr, Edwin B. Bridges, Fred B. Helms, Tom P. Jimison, William H. Bobbitt, John D. Shaw, Wade H. Williams, and John H. Small, Jr.
The high caliber of men and women who have made the law their profession and who have elected to practice in Charlotte has been fully maintained during the second quarter of the twentieth century. The District Bar Association of the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District for 1959-1960 boasts approximately 300 members, many of whom are, comparatively speaking, newcomers. They give promise of becoming as well and warmly remembered in the years to come as those mentioned in preceding paragraphs are now regarded.
Charlotte has an attractive and meaningful historical seal, or coat-of-arms, but neither the name of the artist nor exact date of its adoption are known. The only official reference to it is contained in the minutes of the City Council for May 6, 1929, which reads: "The flag shall have a blue field with the Seal in white, which was designed during the term of Mayor Bland from May 1911 to May 1915." The historical seal bears the words, "City of Charlotte—Mecklenburg County, North Carolina," on the border. The arms are a bough of a tree (indicating growth), a liberty cap, a hornets' nest, two hands clasped (indicating friendship), and the date, 1775 (the year the Mecklenburg declaration of independence was signed). All city stationery bears the coat-of-arms.
The official flower of the city of Charlotte is the red rose, adopted by action of the City Council May 5, 1948.
Blue and white are the official colors of the city, but the date of their adoption is not known. The shade of blue is between old blue and royal blue.
In 1960 Charlotte passed the 200,000 mark in population. "Spearhead of the New South," shouts the Chamber of Commerce, and "the end of an epoch" say the authors of this history, nervously. It is a good stopping point. Future historians can pick up the story with the year in which Charlotte really emerged form the status of a town to that of a city. The figures prove it, as the Chamber of Commerce was quick to note.
It was the year when, on April 16, preliminary figures for the eighteenth decennial census of the United States gave Charlotte, for the first time, a population of more than 200,000 people. The next day the Charlotte News commented editorially upon this event in typical Charlotte fashion, as follows:
"Swelling her chest like a lady trackster, Queen Charlotte broke the 200,000 tape officially yesterday morning. She had 878 souls to spare, by the census figures. It was a photo finish.
"An enthusiastic group of city fathers learned the news from the district census supervisor at 11 o'clock Monday morning. City Manager William J. Veeder summarized the feelings most Charlotteans have. Two hundred thousand people means, more than anything else, an entirely new state of mind. 'It's a magic figure,' Mr. Veeder said. It is just that. It is a psychological shot in the arm. Wisely husbanded, its offshoot will be a real civic progress.
"What the figures show is that Charlotte's economic boom has been accompanied by a population boom. The city's bounty since 1940—new industry, new distributors, new merchants, new professional services—is distributed among 100,000 new citizens.
"Charlotteans need not be reminded that bigger does not always mean better. Urban America is littered with the corpses of once proud, pleasant small towns whose life-force vanished with growth because growth was never disciplined and never channeled properly.
"For the most part Charlotte has avoided that fate splendidly. Civic-minded citizens, conscious that mere growth is a necessity but not sufficiency for municipal greatness, have kept Charlotte's expansion disciplined.
"The challenges will grow. The day when the 200,000 tape was broken should bring not only exhilaration but a rededication to the principles by which mere gatherings of people and buildings become great cities. Cities must bear in mind these needs:
"Recreation—from play to serious enjoyment of the arts.
"Social stability—from sound government and law enforcement; and by guarding against the disintegration wrought by slums, unrejuvenated business centers, and run-down housing.
"Educational and civic growth—which can be obtained only by imaginative fiscal management and sound long-range planning and financing.
"But in the last resort, cities are raised to greatness by a spirit—always difficult to touch but as old as the wandering Athenians and Romans who believed that their city was the center point of the world. And it was."
The year 1960 will also be remembered as the year the city and county school systems were consolidated. It was the year in which the huge First Baptist Church began to think seriously of leaving its downtown location. Construction of the campuses of Charlotte College and Carver College was well under way. Early in the year, the American Commercial National Bank announced plans for consolidating with the Security National Bank of Greensboro to form the North Carolina National Bank, second largest banking chain in the Carolinas and fourth in the South. The $2,500,000 Y.M.C.A. building was officially opened in the spring. Notwithstanding the uncertainty usually associated with an election year, Charlotte business firms were enjoying unprecedented prosperity.
In examining Charlotte papers for 1960, researchers will be impressed by the amount of space given to racial discrimination, juvenile delinquency, illegitimacy, the divorce rate, the aging population and underfed school children. They will note that slum clearance, urban redevelopment and similar symptoms of municipal growing pains occupy the attention of officials and citizens. Some will smile over the consternation caused by the changing of more than 500 street names in order to eliminate duplicaiton that had become monstrous. They may grieve that no improvement was made in 1960 in the matter of public concern about the significance of "Evacuation Route" signs along the highways, or attention to the occasional "alert" sounded by the Office of Civil Defense.
Among the more hopeful signs that brighten the horizon of a new decade in Charlotte should be noted the city's extensive participation in teacher-pupil exchange arrangements with overseas countries. Future historians can report upon the success of this phase of the attempt to settle international differences through human friendships and understanding. In educational circles, also, 1960 will be remembered as the year in which standards were examined with the idea of returning to some of the older methods of teaching in the hope of finding an answer to the problems of apparent laxity among our youth.
Upon the success of these and other serious 1960 projects depends the caliber of men and women who will adorn the pages of Charlotte history during the final decades of the twentieth century. The names and achievements of their forebears who brought the city this far along its way in the fields of religion, education, business and industry, culture, health, and welfare are recorded in the following chapters, and offered as examples worthy of emulation. It is worthwhile to hope and plan so that each new generation may be able to say, with Kipling,
"Surely in toil of fray, under an alien sky
Comfort it is to say, 'Of no mean city am I.'"
Blythe, Legette and Brockmann, Charles Raven. Hornets' Nest: The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Charlotte, N.C.: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1961.