Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Cabarrus Reacts to the 1968 Death of 
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Daily Independent (Kannapolis, NC), 5 Apr 1968, p. 1.
50 years ago, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was originally scheduled to tour North Carolina while campaigning for Reginald Hawkins, a Charlotte dentist who was the first serious black candidate for governor in a North Carolina Democratic Party primary. King was instead diverted to Memphis, Tenn. in support of a strike by sanitation workers. It was a time when issues regarding civil, labor, and voting rights, which had long plagued the African American community, caused tensions to run high. After his death by an assassin's bullet at the Lorraine Hotel on Thursday, April 4, 1968, frustration and anger resulted in violence in many cities across the country. What was the reaction in Cabarrus County the week following the tragedy?

On the morning of April 5, it was reported that all ABC liquor stores in Concord and Mt. Pleasant were closed on the order of North Carolina Governor Dan K. Moore. He also stopped the sale of beer, wine, and all other alcoholic beverages. The governor prohibited sales of alcohol throughout the state until further notice due to concern about reports of violence in Raleigh, Charlotte, and elsewhere the previous evening.

Students at Concord's traditionally African American Barber-Scotia College held a closed campus memorial service on April 5 honoring the assassinated civil rights leader. Dr. Jerome Gresham, president of the college, acknowledged that people were expressing their grief in many ways, but condemned the violent expressions that Dr. King himself denounced.

Some took a hard line, such as Robert Vance Somers, a Republican candidate for the U. S. Senate, who spoke at the Hotel Concord on Saturday, April 6. Somers lashed out at the rioting and said that, "anybody caught throwing a molotov cocktail into another man's business should be shot."

On Sunday, April 7, ministers in numerous churches made an appeal for calm and peace while commending Dr. King's efforts on behalf of the black race. Some warned of the ramifications of creating a war in the streets while still fighting the war in Vietnam.

The students of Barber-Scotia College invited the public to an open memorial service at the campus quadrangle on Monday, April 8. The invitation was extended to Mrs. King and her family, President Lyndon Johnson, and other high ranking government officials, along with letters written by the students in a bound volume. The service attracted a large crowd. Afterward, about 30 students walked to the Concord business district without incident.

As waves of violence continued in many cities, Concord Mayor S. Les Myers, citing concern about outside infiltrators, followed Charlotte's lead by enforcing a city-wide curfew from 8 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Violation of the curfew was punishable by a fine of $50 and imprisonment up to 30 days. Likewise, the Cabarrus County Commissioners adopted an ordinance that made it possible to declare a county-wide curfew if warranted by a state of emergency. Myers was pleased with the cooperation from Concord citizens and reported only minor incidents of vandalism and curfew violations.

As the weekend approached, racial calm returned over most of the nation, ABC liquor stores reopened in North Carolina, and the Concord curfew was lifted. News turned to Sunday's Easter sunrise services and registration for the upcoming election primaries. 

Today, the monument in Concord's MLK Memorial Plaza not only honors the life and legacy of Dr. King, it is a reminder to the citizens of Cabarrus County to preserve the dream of truth, hope, unity, and peace.

MLK Memorial Plaza, Concord, NC, 4 Apr 2018.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Will of Cabarrus "Meck Dec" Signer, John Phifer, 
Now In N. C. State Archives Digital Collection

A portion of John Phifer's will from the State Archives of North Carolina's collection of North Carolina Secretary of State Wills.

The State Archives of North Carolina recently announced the creation of a new digital collection, North Carolina Secretary of State Wills. The digital collection contains wills from 1663 to 1789. These are loose original wills probated in the colonial North Carolina province. After 1760 most original wills were kept by the clerk in the county in which they were probated, though there are some wills after 1760 in the collection. You can browse the collection or narrow your search using the Mitchell Will Index, which can be accessed in the Manuscript and Archives Reference System (MARS) catalog. The original wills are no longer accessible to the public for conservation concerns. Due to the age of some of the wills, the ink may be difficult to read. The wills are arranged alphabetically by surname of decedent.

One notable person in the collection is Patriot and statesman, Lt. Col. John Phifer, who lived in what would later become Cabarrus County. John was born 25 Mar 1747, the son of distinguished Patriot and pioneer, Maj. Martin Phifer Sr., and his wife, Anna Margaretha (Margaret) Blackwelder Phifer. 

John is attributed with being one of the signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The document is asserted to be the first declaration of independence made in the thirteen colonies during the American Revolution, which began with the armed conflicts at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts in April 1775. The so-called "Meck Dec" preceded the U. S. Declaration of Independence by one year, however, its existence is disputed by some historians. The narrative maintains that John, a leading member of the local militia, was summoned with 27 others to attend a convention in Charlotte where they signed the radical document on 20 May 1775.

John Phifer's will, written in 1774, details land and property, including named slaves, left to his children Paul, Margaret, Ann Elizabeth, and wife Catherine Barringer Phifer. John expresses concern about the spiritual and academic education of the children, especially son Paul, and he lists his father Martin Phifer and father-in-law, Paul Barringer, as executors of the will. 

North Carolina highway historical marker 
located at the intersection of U. S. 29 N. and
McGill Ave./Poplar Tent Rd. in Concord.
John died at Red Hill in late 1776. Red Hill was one of Martin Phifer's plantations and the location of a tavern where John and his brother, Martin Phifer Jr. both lived at different times in their lives. Red Hill famously hosted Martin Jr.'s friend, President George Washington on 29 May 1791, as he passed through the area on a southern tour.

Included with the will is a document from the January 1777 session of the Mecklenburg County Court stating that John Phifer had died and so ordered an inventory of the estate and payment of any debts. 

A granite monument memorializes the contributions of John and other Phifer family members at Concord's Oakwood Cemetery. The Phifer Family Cemetery, located at the end of Lucky Drive in Concord, was established in 1767 and is a preservation project of the Lt. Col. John Phifer Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.

The Secretary of State Wills collection of the State Archives of North Carolina can be found at:
John Phifer's will is:

Monument inscription in remembrance of John Phifer, Oakwood Cemetery, Concord. Photo by Terrance McManaway,

State Archives of North Carolina, Secretary of State Wills collection.

North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program, Red Hill., State Library of North Carolina, Martin Phifer., #138597260.
Horton, Clarence E. Jr. and Kathryn L. Bridges, eds., Piedmont Neighbors: Historical Sketches of Cabarrus, Stanly and Southern Rowan Counties from the Pages of Progress Magazine, p314-315.