Needed: North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center

UAC061919001A few years ago, I got the sense that the North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center proposed for Fayetteville had substantial public support and was moving toward realization. Over the past few weeks, media reports and commentary on social media, especially Facebook, tell a different story.

Given that the opposition, in my estimation, presents bits and pieces of information that fit their narrative, I decided to look for facts that would allow me to assess this Fayetteville opportunity fairly.

I started by attending a meeting, May 18, of Cumberland County Citizens United. Representatives of the History Center talked about the effort and answered audience questions. They were John “Mac” Healy, president of the Civil War & Reconstruction History Center board of directors; Mary Lynn Bryan, board vice president; and David Winslow, president of the History Center. In the days after that meeting, I spent substantial time researching this endeavor. In the end, I concluded that what is being pursued is desperately needed not only for North Carolina but for all of America. What follows are some of the facts and considerations that led me to this conclusion.

Start with the storytelling focus of the History Center as stated in the following segment from its information brochure: “North Carolina’s Civil War stories are much more than the stories of soldiers and battles. They are the stories of our homefront, and they include the experiences of women, children, the elderly, yeoman farmers and African Americans, freed and enslaved. They are stories of Quaker pacifists and strong secessionists living side by side.

“The NC Civil War & Reconstruction History Center will tell them all, truthfully, based on solid scholarship and honoring the memory of the sacrifices made by North Carolinians from all walks of life.”

My life experience says that knowing what others have gone through, what has shaped their thinking, makes it much more likely that we can successfully address the relationship-stressing differences that divide us.

For some years, I had a neighbor around the corner from me who had a huge Confederate flag in the window, facing a major street. Without a doubt, it would have been productive if anybody who was troubled by that flag could have calmly and respectfully heard the story as to why he or she put it in place. I believe the approach of this center will promote this process of hearing and appreciating one another’s stories.

The other value in storytelling is that those who hear the stories are often inspired and instructed in ways that contribute to success in their living. My father spent the early years of his life in Miller County, Georgia. He often referred to Miller County during his youth as being the most racist county in America. When Daddy was 16 years old, his father was shot and killed. Mama Nettie, my paternal grandmother, was left alone to rear six sons and a daughter. Another daughter was an adult. The family had spent years sharecropping, but after my grandfather’s death, they moved to a plantation where they rented land for farming. Times were hard, very difficult.

From that circumstance, Daddy, his two sisters and four of his brothers went on to finish college and build very successful lives. The one brother who did not earn a college degree completed mortuary training. He also became a valued scientist with the federal government. They accomplished all of this despite the pain and struggle experienced in Miller County and beyond.

I really got to know my father’s story as we recorded hours of conversation so that I could work with him to write a book about his life. Whatever success I have achieved is due, in great part, to being inspired and instructed by my father’s story. We live in a time when far too many Americans, especially the young, do not have access to these stories that inspire and instruct for successful living. Instead, there is an overabundance of stories and experiences that have just the opposite impact.

I firmly believe that this essential need for telling the stories of people from the Civil War and Reconstruction periods will be accomplished through this project. In part, that conviction is inspired by my reading some of the stories already collected and posted on the Center’s website at http://nccivilwarcenter.org/featured-stories.

There is further evidence that the focus will be on people, their thinking about the happenings of this period, the challenges and how they were addressed. For me, further evidence comes in the process being employed by the History Center. North Carolina’s leading scholars on the antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction periods were brought together over two days. They presented facts regarding these periods that are the History Center’s focus. Philip Gerard, the author of at least 12 books and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, was invited to attend the two days of meetings and, from it, construct a coherent narrative to bring together those facts.

The process described in the preceding paragraph resulted in a 30-page document that substantiates the History Center’s focus on people and their stories. As planned, this narrative based on facts was written by Gerard.

In words, he brings alive the harsh living conditions faced by people in North Carolina even before the Civil War. Then there is fact-based addressing of stories of struggle and perseverance. Woven in is a look at what caused the Civil War and the journey to it. There is a multitude of facts that dispel some of the assumptions about those who lived in the South. This matter of assumptions is a critical point because coming to grips with it can help produce an atmosphere conducive to productive conversation relating to race and other divisive issues. Gerard’s narrative was used in the beginning planning of the exhibits and the digital education program.

As I read Gerard’s straightforward narrative, I thought about the concern raised by many that any reference to the Civil War dissuades black Americans from engaging in the dialogue. The argument is that this response is due to the Civil War, and any reference to it, being a reminder of the horrible episode of slavery.

My observation is that American society has regressed to a point where we, almost totally,  lack the capacity to forthrightly address and work through tension-producing issues. Given that much of the racial divide and tension that we face today goes back to the Civil War and Reconstruction period, we fool ourselves if we think we can rectify our current disaster without coming faceto- face with the genesis of this disaster.

This lack of capacity for forthrightly addressing difficult issues is further reflected in the call by some to come up with a “generic” name for the History Center. That is, do not include the words “Civil War.” My position is to let us accurately identify what it is we are addressing. In so doing, we might just start the journey back to being able to productively tackle the myriad difficult topics faced by our country rather than dance around them and give them disgusting lip service.

The economic impact of this project is also a factor in my conclusion that Fayetteville and Cumberland County need this center. A study conducted by ConsultEcon, Inc. in 2014 stated, “The preliminary attendance potential is estimated at 75,000 to 135,000, with a midrange estimate rounded to 105,000 in a stable year of operation.”

That is no small economic impact. The projection considered Fayetteville’s total offering as reflected in the following statement. “When combined with: the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, the Cape Fear Botanical Garden, the Transportation and Local History Museum and the other recreational offerings and events sponsored in Fayetteville, along with Fayetteville’s attractive downtown area, a sufficient ‘critical mass’ of visitor attractions will be created to significantly enhance the visitor profile of Fayetteville and its tourism economy.”

Given the increased “critical mass” of visitor attractions resulting from Segra Stadium, the Woodpeckers baseball team, a renovated Prince Charles Hotel and other downtown enhancements that were not in place at the time of this study, the economic impact will likely be even greater than the 2014 projections.

The History Center was projected to cost $65 million. Fayetteville and Cumberland County passed resolutions saying that each of them would contribute $7.5 million. The History Center’s board is endeavoring to raise $17.5 million. Every indication is that if the History Center, including local government commitments, raises $32.5 million, the state will provide the remainder. Further, when the History Center is completed, the state will take over all funding requirements.

For me, the economic impact component also speaks to the argument that the money could be better spent on more pressing needs. My response is that there must be balance between investing for long-term return and spending in the moment. Governments do a lot of spending in the moment while not investing for return. This center will give some balance. As a property owner whose taxes keep going up, I want to see some investment that produces return in terms of jobs and tax revenue. This project will do so.

The economic impact study makes a couple other points that I find to be of tremendous value when assessing this project. This study was done when the facility was referred to as North Carolina Civil War History Center. “Through its onsite education offerings, outreach programs and online programs, NCCWHC will expand informal educational opportunities for students in Fayetteville and State-wide. Enhanced opportunities for adult continuing education will also be created.

“The quality of life benefits of the new NCCWHC may have the most profound and long-lasting impacts on the Fayetteville community. This project will improve community self-esteem and citizenship by becoming a source of community pride and identity. NCCWHC will enhance Fayetteville and the downtown area as a place to live, work and recreate, thus improving all aspects of the local economy and community.”

Finally, I am amazed by the distinguished and extremely capable individuals who are actively involved in giving life to the History Center. There is some paid staff, but more than 100 volunteers are also investing their time and talents. Volunteers span civic leaders to educators and historians from here in Fayetteville, across the state and the country. I want to detail many of the staff and volunteers, but space will not allow it. Consequently, here are just a few.

John “Mac” Healy and Mary Lynn Bryan serve, respectively, as president and vice president of the History Center’s board of directors. They are volunteers and spoke at the Cumberland County Citizens United meeting referenced in the opening paragraph. Their vision, commitment and superb leadership skills showed through not only in their presentations but also in the progress of this effort to date.

David Winslow is president of the History Center. As president and founder of the Winslow Group, Inc., he brings to the table a wealth of knowledge and experience. This is coupled with a track record of successes in providing, from the company’s website, “a full range of fundraisingrelated services including campaign counsel, feasibility studies, emergency fundraising, campaign planning, prospect/donor database management, organizational assessments, and strategic planning.”

In an article from 2009 titled “The Finish Line,” David Wireback details how Winslow helped raise desperately needed funds to finish the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here are two lines from Wireback’s opening: “Barely a year ago, efforts to transform the former F.W. Woolworth Co. building into a world-class civil rights museum faced a huge challenge. Enter David Winslow, a Winston- Salem consultant with a statewide reputation for raising money for daunting projects.”

Please visit www.winslowgroupinc.com to learn more about the track record of David Winslow.

Dr. James Anderson, outgoing chancellor at Fayetteville State University, is on the History Center’s advisory board and is forthright in his support for this project. He speaks and writes in support. Even further, his organizing of events that allow citizens to become fully informed demonstrates a level of understanding and commitment far above the routine.

In recent weeks, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, a historian of the Civil War and the American South, committed to assisting with the digital education component. Faust served as the 28th president of Harvard University from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2018. She was Harvard’s first female president and the first Harvard president without a Harvard degree.

Vines Architecture was chosen for this project. Victor Vines is president and principal. The design work is complete and available on the History Center’s website. Even though no construction had begun, the impressive design earned an Unbuilt Merit Award from American Institute of Architects in North Carolina in 2014.

America needs this center because it offers tremendous help in successfully addressing the racial tension and other issues that portend a dreadful future for this country. That help comes by way of a storytelling focus on people, an accuracyproducing process, positive economic impact, an effective educational approach and enhanced community self-esteem.

Finally, the effort is in the hands of people who are fully committed and extraordinarily capable.

Fayetteville After Five returns

10OnTheBorderIf you missed the first Fayetteville After Five concert, it’s not too late to enjoy the next installment of free music in Festival Park. Every second Friday, May through August, free concerts under the stars, food trucks and beverages beckon citizens to kick up their heels and welcome the weekend with free entertainment and a night of familyfriendly memory making.

June 14, it’s a local favorite that takes the stage — Eagles tribute band On the Border. Taking the tribute band experience up a notch, each member gets into character and performs as their respective band member from The Eagles during the performance. The members of On the Border are Tracy Maples (vocals, guitar), Tim Giovanniello (vocals, guitar), Bill Morgan (vocals, guitar), Andy Young (vocals, drums), Scott Sobota (vocals, bass) and, Bob Orazi (vocals, keys, guitar). Their delivery of spot-on music has not only garnered them a loyal following. They have been declared the greatest Eagles tribute band in the world by AXSTV and host Katie Daryl.

On the Border hails from Charlotte, North Carolina, and has been granted licensed rights for live musical performances of the Eagles catalog. Known for their delivery, the band brings some of rock ’n’ roll’s best classics to Fayetteville — and it is free to attend.

The Eagles originated in Los Angeles, California, in 1971 with founding members Glenn Frey (guitars, vocals), Don Henley (drums, vocals), Bernie Leadon (guitars, vocals) and Randy Meisner (bass guitar, vocals). The Eagles were one of the most successful bands in the 1970s, with five No. 1 singles, six No. 1 albums, six Grammy Awards and five American Music Awards. To date, the band has sold more than 100 million albums. Songs like “Hotel California,” “Take It Easy,” “Witchy Woman,” Peaceful, Easy Feeling,” “One of Those Nights” and “Desperado” are just a few of their most well-known songs. The Eagles split in 1980 and reunited in 1994. The band is currently on tour through October of this year.

A local band with a solid following, Rivermist headlines the July 12 concert. The band has been playing in the area for more than 20 years in different iterations. Rivermist as it is known today formally came together in 2014. A classic rock and variety party band, the group is known for being energetic on the stage. The band knows its audience and hits every chord just right when it comes to pleasing the crowd. Rivermist tours the East Coast with a focus on Virginia and the Carolinas. The band has won several awards locally, including Up & Coming Weekly’s Best of Fayetteville.

Aug. 9, Kasey Tyndall closes the season. Tyndall’s debut single, “Everything is Texas,” dropped in 2017, and the video was in the top 10 on CMT’s 12 Pack Countdown.

“For as long as people have been breaking hearts or getting their hearts broken, there’s a bar, that bar’s regulars, and its staff to help,” says Tyndall on her website. “We all have that bar in our life — no matter what we’re going through, we’re somehow family when we come together there.”

The gates open at 5 p.m. for all the concerts. Music starts around 6:30 p.m. and ends around 10:30 p.m. Bring a blanket or a lawn chair. No canopies, please. No coolers or outside food is permitted. Service dogs are welcome. The concerts are free. Visit www.thedogwoodfestival.com/fayetteville-after-five to learn more.

Local radio host Curt Nunnery will be missed

08CurtNunneryAfter nearly 60 years on Fayetteville radio airwaves, Curt’s Coffee Club has convened for the final time. Curt Nunnery, who got his start locally as a Fourth of July replacement on WFAI back in 1960, passed away recently at the age of 83.

Show guests and professional cohorts remember him as man with an incredible passion for his work who had an almost magical connection with his loyal radio fan base.

Janet Gibson, marketing and communications director of the Arts Council of Fayetteville/ Cumberland County, had some family connections with Nunnery and, like him, was a graduate of the University of South Carolina. She got to know him best during the last couple of years when she made regular appearances on his morning show on Sunny 94.3 FM, promoting the Arts Council’s 4th Friday events.

“He would teach me how to speak in the microphone,’’ Gibson said. “He was a great teacher. I’m not the only one he’s done that with. People have similar stories about his generosity of spirit.’’

Gibson said Nunnery’s fans loved his morning show, and they were people of various generations and cultural backgrounds. “He was the quintessential Southern gentleman,’’ Gibson said. “You want to protect someone like that and revere them. I think there was a lot of respect.’’

Gibson said it was little things that made Nunnery special to listeners. For example, when he read a commercial for a local restaurant, he’d list all the names of the servers there as he talked about the food they offered.

In a time when technology is moving so fast and people are glued to smartphones, Gibson said Nunnery reminded everyone to slow down and show gratitude. “He always showed gratitude,’’ she said. 

Carolyn Justice-Hinson, also a regular guest on Nunnery’s radio show, is the communications and community relations officer for the Fayetteville Public Works Commission. Justice-Hinson recalled a time when Nunnery helped host an event for PWC that was being held outdoors on a cold and rainy day. “His listeners that came to visit that day were upset,’’ Justice-Hinson said. “They wanted us to move him inside. They didn’t want him out there in the cold.’’

Justice-Hinson said Nunnery was part of the lives of his listeners. She is certain there is going to be avoid that can’t be filled now that he’s gone.

“I can’t imagine what’s going to happen,’’ she said. “It’s going to be very difficult for people. We were all blessed we knew him and had him as long as we did.’’

Danny Highsmith, regional vice president for Beasley Broadcast Group, where Nunnery worked for many years, said Nunnery had deep roots in the community that endeared him to his listening audience. “He could talk about what’s going on in Fayetteville,’’ Highsmith said. “He was not some syndicated guy from New York.’’

In the end, Highsmith said Nunnery was not unlike the name of his program, Curt’s Coffee Club — that morning cup of coffee that everyone depended on to start the day.

“When they turned on the radio or woke up to the clock radio, he was familiarity,’’ Highsmith said. “That familiarity is something that endeared him to people as well.’’

Photo: Curt Nunnery

A review of Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s summer offerings

09SweetTeaShakespeareSweet Tea Shakespeare presents “Richard III” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” through June 22 and June 23, respectively.

From repeated comparisons to “Game of Thrones” to its “Psycho Killer” theme song to the corpses littering the space in its opening moments, STS’ presentation of Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” which opened June 4 at the Poe House, was an ambitious attempt with a promising beginning that fell a bit flat.

The play depends upon dialogue to move the plot forward and to describe the action, most of which occurs offstage. Dialogue delivery was hampered throughout the evening by intermittent microphone problems and often overwhelming traffic noise from the MLK highway just beyond the tree line. Despite copious program notes, because of the inability to hear the dialogue and the fact that Elizabethan English is an arcane tongue to modern ears, Richard’s convoluted machinations to gain the crown of England were often hard to follow. The players gamely carried on.

Standout performances were Evan Bridenstine’s rendition of “Psycho Killer,” Jen Pommerenke’s strutting Buckingham and Jane Moran’s commanding performance as Queen Margaret.

The premiere performance of “Merry Wives of Windsor” coincided with some much-needed rain. Undaunted, the plucky troupe cobbled together a play space in the fellowship hall of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, and in the best tradition of the theater, the show went on. And what a show it was!

Aaron Alderman was brilliant as Sir John Falstaff, the greedy, lascivious “fat knight” who woos two married women in hopes of gaining access to their husbands’ wealth.

Playing Dr. Caius, one of three suitors of young Anne Page, Jen Pommerenke’s French accent, reminiscent of the best of Peter Sellers and Emma Thompson, never failed to elicit laughter. Her comic timing, along with that of Alderman, was always spot-on. The spirit of the ensemble was upbeat and merry throughout the entire performance. It was infectious, drawing the audience in and carrying us along on a rollicking adventure that definitely transcended the less-than-stellar play space.

Dena Vassey, costumer for "Richard III," does a lot with a little. She used white-infused and predominantly scarlet plaid shirts to differentiate between Richard’s York (white) and Lancaster (red) cohorts. Sana Moulder's costumes for “Merry Wives” were more elaborate but no less inventive as costume changes for several characters were crafted from one basic piece that could be quickly manipulated offstage into an entirely different look.

Jeremy Fiebig and Molly Malone co-directed both shows, with Avis Hatcher-Puzzo also joining as a co-director for "Merry Wives."

This intrepid band of itinerant players deserves both kudos and community support for their dedication to keeping theater at its most accessible alive and well in our midst. They are a multi-talented group. Not only do they have prodigious memories and the ability to master reams of difficult dialogue, they are talented singers, musicians and dancers.

Under the direction of Jacob French, STS pre-show and intermission mini-concerts are always a delight with songs both contemporary and traditional chosen to fit the mood of the play.

Food, nonalcoholic and adult beverages are available during the pre-show concert and again at intermission. The pre-show begins at 6:45 p.m. with showtime at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the door and online with discounts available for students, seniors and members of the military. For show dates and times, visit www.sweetteashakespeare.com. Unless it’s raining, be sure to bring your own seating.

Kiwanis Talent Night showcases local youth

16KiwanisThe Fayetteville Kiwanis Club presents its 68th annual Kiwanis Talent Night Showcase on Saturday, June 8, at 7 p.m. at Cape Fear Regional Theatre.

“May 18, dozens of children came through — preschoolers through 12th grade — to audition from public, private and Christian schools. There were also a lot of home-schoolers,” said Bill Bowman, chairman of the Kiwanis Talent Night Showcase. “We have five divisions, including a classical division. The talent is absolutely amazing.”

Bowman added that the showcase has lasted through so many years because of the way it is put together. He said the secret is in choosing qualified and knowledgeable judges for the event. The judges are experts in the areas of voice, music and dance, so they are informed and objective when it comes to judging the talent.

“We are putting a show together to highlight what we feel is the best of the best (students) that come out to audition,” said Bowman. “So, once we have them, we can put a show together that not only creates a wonderful evening of quality entertainment, but it gives the children a chance to showcase their talent.”

Bowman explained how the show is valuable to its participants. There are hundreds of local children who take voice, music and dance lessons, and they have very few venues in which to perform. Being able to perform at events like the Kiwanis showcase, Bowman said, “is really how you get good.”

Special guests include the 2019 Fayetteville Dogwood Festival Queens and the Campbellton Youth Chorus. The emcees of the event are John Kistler and Debbie Best.

JML Piano will provide a 7-foot grand piano for the contestants to play for their performances.

“This is a fundraiser for The Fayetteville Kiwanis Club, and all of the money raised will go back into the community in some sort of program of education,” said Bowman. “The Cumberland County Schools have been major sponsors of this event for over three decades, but everybody participates in it.”

The 2019 overall winner will receive a trophy and $200. In each division, the first-place winner will receive a trophy and $100, the second-place winner will receive a trophy and $50, and the third-place winner will receive a trophy and $25.

Four $150 music scholarships will also be awarded in the areas of voice, strings, piano and band instrument.

“I would like to thank the Cape Fear Regional Theatre for giving the kids this experience,” said Bowman. “We invite everyone to come out and enjoy this wonderful event.”

Tickets cost $8 at the door. Refreshments will be sold courtesy of Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop. For more information, contact Bowman at 910-391-3859.

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