Viewpoint

27 views of Charlotte, like a long letter from home

From former Charlottean D.G. Martin, host of “North Carolina Bookwatch” on UNC-TV:

It was like the pleasure of a long letter from home – at least for this exile from Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

I picked up the new book, “27 Views of Charlotte: The Queen City in Prose & Poetry,” to see if any of my friends were among the almost 30 contributors.

But when I started reading, I could not stop until I had read every selection, beginning with Jack Clairborne’s cheerful summary of Charlotte’s efforts to become a “world class city,” concluding that the key to its success has been its openness. “You don’t have to come from a particular family or industry or religion or race to make a place for yourself. If you have ideas and the energy to put them across, you too can be a leader. That’s part of what makes Charlotte a pushy and successful place.”

The book is filled with talented writers. For instance, UNC Charlotte professor David Goldfield starts with Charlotte’s distinction as the last capital of the Confederacy because of its hosting President Jefferson Davis’s last cabinet meeting. Goldfield says that Charlotte’s “journey from Confederate capital to banking capital ... is a tale of industry (textiles), migration (black, white, and brown), entrepreneurial innovation, expansion of education, infrastructure improvement, Uptown revitalization, and lots of eager, bright young people attracted not only by the work, but also by the ethic.”

Two deans of Charlotte’s writing community, Dannye Romine Powell and Mary Kratt, charmingly connect city monuments like Fourth Ward and the Duke Mansion to the people who lived there at the beginning and what they contributed. For instance, James B. Duke’s hydro-electricity powered most of the 300 mills within 100 miles of Charlotte, representing one-half of all the mills in the South.

Other powerful writers show connections between the treasured Latta Arcade and the farm families who once brought cotton to market there; the link between food and the struggle for racial justice; the relationship with returning soldiers; the rise and fall and of a once-elegant shopping center; the experiences of residents in all-black Second Ward, now all gone.

As I kept reading, I found a poignant story of the people living on one of the last nearby farms and the farmers’ remarkable relationship with the traveling circus that stabled its horses on the farm; a portrait of Charlotte’s favorite cowboy, Fred Kirby, who helped make a Charlotte station the television capital of Western North Carolina; complicated and scary crime stories; descriptions of streets that change names without warning; how the city took the shock of the loss of Wachovia, the wild-west-like story of the construction of the Charlotte Motor Speedway; and a loving description of Charlotte’s love of trees.

Great writing and wonderful stories took me all the way to the final one by former TV anchor Bob Inman who concluded with a celebration of “the tradition of good people seeing that a good place can always be made better, and acting on it.”

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