On Friday, Saturday and Monday, Tom Hanchett, a historian and unabashed booster of the diverse flavors of the South, organized tours for the convention-bound media at Charlotte’s Museum of the New South, giving visitors a taste of the “stories behind Charlotte’s emergence as a major city”—and of our sweet local soda flavors, from Cheerwine to Sangria Señorial.
Hanchett told the tale of how Charlotte avoided violence during the early days of racial integration in the 1960s, when local African American dentist Reginald Hawkins met with Mayor Stan Brookshire to urge action on integrating restaurants.
“Charlotte was really tense about how the outside media would see them,” Hanchett said, as all eyes focused on violence in Alabama. Mayor Brookshire, said Hanchett, said, “We ain’t gonna do that. We’re a business town.”
Brookshire then visited the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and recommended that all the white guys take a black guy to lunch at the fancy uptown restaurants of the day that hadn’t integrated, Hanchett said.
That narrative, that idea of civic cooperation and pride, is part of Charlotte’s self-image, across the political spectrum. Charlotte Observer reporter Elizabeth Leland, as part of a package leading up to the convention, detailed Charlotte’s longstanding think-I-can outlook in a piece headlined “‘Little City That Could’”—quoting a UNC Charlotte historian. (Leland now has West Nile virus, but that’s another story.)
Cooperation and resolve to overcome obstacles economic and otherwise don’t often make headlines, but when the ideas work, as they did Monday during the convention kickoff party, it makes locals proud. Even I, as a skeptical journalist and a long-time resident, have come to sometimes doubt that vision of success for the city during the hungry years in town. The images and feel of uptown Charlotte on Monday helped renew some faith.
But again, the story isn’t over. As Hanchett said during one of his media briefings, “We’re busy reinventing ourselves right now.” Perhaps that’s a story the national—and regional—media can examine more closely.