"Normal" People Made History

Why would I want to study peasants, when I can study kings?”, asked a fellow historian.   “Kings,” he continued, “made history.”     He was reacting to my comment that it’s important to study “normal” people.  My friend thought I trumpeted the usual, social history mantra.  But I meant something different.


Waters, Vincent S. (1904-1974)

Bishop of the Raleigh Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church from 1945 to 1974, Vincent S. Waters is known mostly for denouncing segregation and ordering the desegregation of North Carolina Catholic churches and schools in 1953—a year before the Brown v. Board of Education case.


Williams, Kenneth R. (1912-1989)

Influential minister and educator and university president in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Kenneth R. Williams won an alderman seat in 1947 and became the first African American to defeat a white opponent in a twentieth-century election in a Southern city



Affirmations are statements made in lieu of oaths by people who have conscientious scruples against taking oaths. Under modern North Carolina law, this means saying “solemnly affirm” instead of “solemnly swear,” and avoiding any invocation of God in support of one’s statement (North Carolina General Statues 11-1 and 11-4).  Starting its colonial history with a de facto freedom to affirm instead of swear, North Carolina returned to a more restrictive position based on English law, then extended affirmation privileges to certain Protestant groups, and ultimately made affirmations available to anyone with objections to oaths.


Salem Brass Band

Formed out of Moravian musical societies and community bands that exemplified the traditional importance of brass instruments, particularly the trombone, the Salem Brass Band served the Confederacy from the first days of the Civil War until June 1865, when members were finally released from prison.  More than its fundraising concerts or its members’ service as medics, the band’s assignment to the 26th North Carolina Infantry, the regiment that suffered the most casualties of any unit at the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), may be its claim to fame.


Act Concerning Marriages (1669)

Settlers wishing to marry soon experienced a problem: only ministers of the Church of England were entitled to perform the rite of marriage and few visited or settled in Carolina.  As a result, the Assembly of Albemarle in 1669 discussed the need to authorize civil officers to perform marriage ceremonies.


Marriage, History of

The state government has regulated the solemnization of marriages from North Carolina’s earliest days, and although the law continues to prohibit any “minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage” from performing a ceremony without a license issued by the Register of Deeds,  a marriage ceremony conducted without a license–except in a few cases–is nevertheless a valid marriage.


Stearns, Shubal (1706-1771)

In 1755, Shubal Stearns settled in the Piedmont of North Carolina, between present-day Liberty and Asheboro in Randolph County, and established Sandy Creek Baptist Church.  Stearns’s authoritative preaching helped convert many in the Piedmont to his Separate Baptist beliefs.  After a split among churches within the Sandy Creek Association of Separate Baptists and the defeat of the Regulation movement, Separate Baptists left for Appalachia.  Stearns, however, remained and died in Randolph County.  But his influence was and is more widespread than many know.  


O'Kelly, James (1736?-1826)

James O’Kelly, a fiery, revivalist preacher in Virginia and North Carolina from 1775-1826, preached religious liberty.  He decried slavery, using republican rhetoric in An Essay on Negro Slavery, and criticized Methodist polity in The Author’s Apology for Protesting Against the Methodist Episcopal Church.  In 1794, he created the Republican Methodist denomination, which became the Christian Church in the South in 1802.  O’Kelly moved to North Carolina in 1787 and died in Chatham County in 1826.