My lunch hour ritual is to get out of the office and take a stroll on Main Street.
The fresh air is nice and you never know who you’ll see. Best of all are the chances to learn new things and help other people.
Several months ago, I was waiting at the edge of the street, when a little pickup truck slowed to a stop. The driver waved me across, and as I stepped from the curb, he stuck his head out the window. It was a lawyer that I knew.
“Go ahead,” he snarled, “walk out there so I can run over you!”
I took several lessons from this encounter. First, it confirmed what I already knew about lawyers. Second, it taught me to keep a safe distance from little hunter green pickup trucks. Mostly, it inspired me to seize any fleeting opportunity to do something useful for mankind.
With a renewed sense of purpose, it was only a matter of time before I faced a golden opportunity. A car pulled up with a harried couple inside.
“Dammit, how do we get to Ca-SHEERS from here?” the lady growled. The exasperated man jabbed the air, “Why don’t you put up a few road signs in this damned town?”
“Ca-SHEERS?” I responded cordially, “Sure, I can tell you where to go.” Having learned my lessons I was ready to do a good turn. I pointed to the next stoplight and said confidently, “Take a left up there and get on Highway 74 EAST to Waynesville, then go SOUTH on Highway 276. Follow that a few miles to Highway 64. Then go WEST on 64.”
“You can’t miss it,” I grinned. “That’s the best way – the QUICKEST way – to get from Sylva to CASH-urs, umm, Ca-SHEERS.”
They grunted, peeled off, and (yes!) took a left at the light, while I bade them a fond adieu.
Perhaps it’s my new attitude that makes me so approachable. I don’t know. But I do know that hardly a week passes without some stranger stopping me on Main Street to ask for assistance.
For instance, just a few days ago, I was on my way to return a library book when a church bus screeched to a stop. The front passenger’s door flew open and an older gentleman burst out, sprinting straight toward me.
“The Jarrett House,” he exclaimed nervously. “How do we get to the Jarrett House?”
“Great,” I noted to myself, “another chance to help a traveler in need.”
I began sternly, “Why’d you come all this way to eat at the Jarrett House? Surely they serve country ham and overcooked canned vegetables in …” I glanced at the side of the bus, “…in Monck’s Corner, South Carolina!”
His eyes narrowed, and then I chuckled, “Just kidding…I can tell you where to go. But it’s funny you should mention the Jarrett House. Did you know…”
The man seemed agitated and kept shifting his weight from one foot to the other. But I figured if he needed to find a restroom, he would have asked. So I continued.
“Did you know about Robert Frank Jarrett? He was the original proprietor of the Jarrett House, and he wrote THIS very book way back in 1916.” I held up the volume entitled Occoneechee – The Maid of the Mystic Lake and pointed to the author’s name on the cover. “How’s that for coincidence?”
“Mill Street. Mill Street,” he muttered impatiently, “they said to turn on Mill Street.”
“Yep, that’s Mill Street over there,” I said with a vague wave of my hand, “but get this…” I opened the book, “I just love the preface that Robert Frank Jarrett wrote.”
I cleared my throat and began reading, “Realizing that the memory of a nation is best kept aglow by its songs and the writings of its poets, I have been inspired to write Occoneechee. Trusting that a generous people may hail with delight the advent of this new work, I now dedicate its pages to all lovers of music, poetry and fine art.”
I looked at the man, “Pretty neat, huh? Amazing when you consider this came from the guy that ran the Jarrett House! If I’m not mistaken, some old football coach owns the place now.” The man looked over his shoulder and then looked over his other shoulder. His comrades in the bus were all fidgeting.
“Mill Street. Mill Street. We didn’t see the sign for Mill Street.”
“Nah,” I assured him, “around here everybody calls it BACK Street, but it turns into West Main Street and then it’s something else when it gets to Dillsboro.”
“OK. OK. Which way…” I opened the book again and began pointing to some of the old photographs. “Look at this! Occoneechee Falls, except they don’t call it that anymore. Actually I don’t know WHERE that is.” I turned the page, “And here’s a picture of Occonestee Falls. You should go there if you have the time.” “Chicken. Chicken? How’s their fried chicken?”
“Overpriced, like everything else on the menu, but look, Robert Frank Jarrett wrote this epic poem based on an old Cherokee legend. It goes on for…” I thumbed through the book, “…almost a hundred pages.”
“How late do they, when do they, stop serving lunch?”
“Makes you wonder how long it took Robert Frank Jarrett to write this poem. Incredible, huh?” And I held up the book again so the man could admire it.
The bus driver revved the engine a couple of times, while my new friend bobbed his head frantically and gestured toward Back Street. He blurted out, “Which way did you say? How do we get…”
“I almost forgot! Robert Frank Jarrett even wrote a song with Mrs. Sadie T. Hutchison called Occoneechee. The sheet music is in the book, and it goes like this.” I started to sing:
In the forest of the Smokies Where Oconaluftee flows, Dwelt a maiden long forgotten Where the rhododendron grows.
The man’s jaw dropped. The bus driver tapped the horn. I kept singing.
She was pure and true and holy And her cheeks were like a rose. And her voice was soft and mellow As the gentlest breeze that blows.
The man turned and scrambled back toward the bus. I followed along, held out the open book and invited him to join me on the chorus:
Occoneechee Occoneechee I can hear your voice still calling me Occoneechee Occoneechee I can see your smile still beckon me Occoneechee Occoneechee You’re calling me You’re calling me Occoneechee Occoneechee I hear your voice still calling me.
He jumped into the bus, pointed a bony finger at me, and sputtered, “You can just…you can just…go to Hell. We’ll find somebody else to give us directions to the Jarrett House.”
I smiled and waved. “Sure,” I thought to myself, “ANYBODY can tell you how to find the Jarrett House. But who else is going to tell you all about Robert Frank Jarrett and the legend of Occoneechee?”
I yelled at the rapidly departing bus, “Have a good ‘un! And, oh, I’d recommend the RAINBOW TROUT! Bon appetit!”
Whenever I go back to my hometown, it’s easy to visit a whole bunch of people I remember from growing up. But they don’t have much left to say. They’re in the cemetery.
Long ago, I enjoyed hearing their stories. It wasn’t uncommon to talk with people born in the 19th century. Now, it’s all but impossible. One of the last conversations I had with someone born prior to the twentieth century was with Robert Lee Franks (1897-2000). While transcribing the 1990 interview, I recognized the poetry in his way of speaking. Language evolves, of course. And when the gentle rhythms of the past are gone, that’s just the inevitable toll of Progress. It’s not like we can turn back the clock. Sometimes, though, the silence is deafening.
Anyhow, here’s what Robert told me.
It took lots of ground to make corn, The way the old people farmed it On these hillsides, Four foot apart the rows, Hills of corn four foot apart. Now that takes a big patch To make anything.
We grew the Pigeon White, they call it, And the Hamburg Red Speckled for a long time. And we got off from that on to a corn That was mixed a little bit with sweet corn, Made a great big long grain Sort of like Hickory King But it would get ripe quicker.
Sometimes we’d grow a little wheat And make our flour, But not often, though. We just traded corn For most everything.
[Notwithstanding my phased retirement from the blogosphere, I stumble across the occasional item that demands posting. In the past, I extolled the virtues of turducken, squipossuhog,creasy greens and a kick-ass recipe for mayonnaise biscuits. I hope you saved room for dessert, because that’s what you’re getting this time. But first, this...]
"If it’s not one thing, it’s another."
I can’t begin to recall all the ill-advised nonsense that the good people of Jackson County have worked to overcome in the past few years. We’ve taken on asphalt plant operators, helicopter tour businesses, the National Rifle Association, miners and real estate developers – with varying degrees of success. It looks like the next episode of "Manifest Destiny – Jackson County" is being brought to you by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, hell-bent on gouging out a freeway from Blanton’s Branch to Green’s Creek. Slimy bastards.
Against better judgment, I pulled myself away from the comforts of my happy hermitage to attend a meeting this week. Ever the optimist, I figured this gathering might spawn the revival of a moribund effort to thwart the road builders. But I was disappointed. Again.
I suppose we all find different ways to feed our egos. At least I’m humble enough to admit that my own ego has an insatiable appetite. And I recognize that my attempts to fill that void seldom result in anything positive for myself or anyone else.
When it comes to lots of the activists that I’ve observed over the past few decades, I guess it’s easier to feel important than to be effective. There ARE ways to conduct meetings with defined objectives and a sufficient understanding of group dynamics to engage participants in meaningful ways and empower them to take action. But you might as well tell it to a brick wall as try to convince some well-meaning people to buy into that line of thinking.
So, if you’re alarmed by the prospects of that ill-advised freeway through the heart of Jackson County, there’s one obvious foe, and a more insidious enemy. It’s easy enough to read between the lines and see that a few well-placed individuals will cash in a lifetime of political chips, reap a small fortune and retire to Montana. That’s the real business of the NC DOT, after all. Road building is just a byproduct.
I’d like to think that concerned citizens, as we like to call ourselves, (or NIMBYs, as others might say) could prevail. But when you combine the power of the DOT with the obstinate refusal of self-proclaimed activists to accept constructive criticism, then the game is over before it begins. And that’s how a lot of good causes go down.
So I’m determined to enjoy Jackson County while I can, and treasure the beauty of each new day. Soon enough, this place will be saturated with freeways, dead streams, strip malls, big box stores, gated communities, meth-infested trailer parks and slave labor camps. Manifest destiny, indeed!
If John Bardo, for instance, ever deigned to speak to us dumb locals, he’d probably explain how progress demands that Sylva and Cullowhee should strive to be Waynesville, which strives to be Asheville, which strives to be Charlotte, which strives to be Atlanta. That’s the new circle of life in our delightful consumer culture. That’s the rising tide that lifts all boats. And to deny it is to reveal one’s backwardness, which is a university’s responsibility to eradicate. Which is why John Bardo will likely deserve to have a stretch of that freeway named after him. It’s our road to the 21st century, or at least a more expeditious way to transport thousands of impatient scholars in a big hurry to "get smashed." Thanks, Mr. Bardo, and thanks, Western Carolina University, for the new age of enlightenment. If that’s not worth sacrificing a few more mountains, then I don’t know what is.
But I digress. The next time I’m tempted to spend an evening at some meandering presentation on stopping a freeway…I plan to stay at home and bake another one of my scrumptious Gulahiyi German Chocolate Cakes. It is a lot easier to swallow.
Prepare to make a total mess of your kitchen. But it’s worth it. First of all is the recipe for the chocolate cake batter, then the coconut/pecan frosting, then the mocha/white chocolate sauce. Yeah.
You’ll need 9" round cake pans, 3 of them.
Sift together these dry ingredients: 3 cups flour 2 tablespoons cocoa powder 1 ¾ teaspoons baking powder 1 tsp baking soda ¼ teaspoon salt
Measure out these wet ingredients: ½ cup cola (diet cola is ok if you’re counting calories) 1 cup buttermilk
Then, 5 eggs – separated, set aside yolks and whites 1 cup butter 2 cups sugar Use a mixer to blend the butter and sugar together.
Melt the chocolate: 4 ounces German chocolate 3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
After the chocolate is melted blend it with the butter and sugar mixture.
Then add: 2 teaspoons of vanilla and the 5 eggs yolks Combine this mixture with the sifted dry ingredients.
Add the whipped egg whites. You know the drill, GENTLY fold the egg whites into the mixture.
Pour the batter into the three wax paper lined cake pans, they need to bake at 350 degrees fro about 30 minutes, and proceed to
Toast the following ingredients: 3 cups of coconut flakes 3 cups chopped pecans (or throw in a few black walnuts)
In a saucepan, combine and heat the following: 12 ounces evaporated milk 5 egg yolks ¾ cup white sugar ¾ cup brown sugar 1 ½ sticks of butter
Continue to stir, so the mixture doesn’t burn. Keep cooking and it will eventually sort of caramelize, I think is the appropriate term. Add the toasted coconut flakes and chopped nuts.
I’ll warn you right now. This is just enough frosting to cover the cake layers. If you want to DOUBLE the frosting recipe, you probably won’t regret it.
Finally, let’s make
½ cup STRONG brewed coffee 1 cup heavy cream 4 ounces white chocolate
[I'd like this sauce better if it were thicker...if you can tell me how to do that, then thanks in advance.]
Combine all these ingredients and heat them in a saucepan.
When the cake is done (use the toothpick trick or whatever works for you), assemble the cake.
Pour the mocha/white chocolate sauce over each layer, followed by the coconut/pecan frosting.
After frosting the last layer, pour the rest of the sauce over the entire cake.
Pour a tall glass of cold milk or a cup of hot coffee. Slice off a big chunk of Gulahiyi's German Chocolate Cake.
It feels good to complete something that’s been on my to-do list for years. A few days ago, I retrieved a tattered old notebook from storage and finally got around to transcribing it. My father kept the journal during a 1934 canoe trip down the Pee Dee River in North and South Carolina, when he was 32 years old.
I’m not sure that any of us can fully appreciate the significance of rivers to the people of early America. It’s something that has been lost for the most part. But I think this 1934 diary hints at what one river might have meant to the people who lived near its banks and travelled on its waters.
I have a deep affinity for the Pee Dee, or the Yadkin, as it is known upstream from its junction with the Uwharrie River. A couple of years ago I returned to a real treasure, the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge and paused by the banks of the great river. If, at that moment, a stray canoe had come drifting along I would have been tempted to climb in and paddle to the coast. What a trip!
A note regarding the journal of the canoe voyage - some of the pages were missing, and two other pages that had been written by way of summary after the trip were added. For the sake of the narrative, I’ve combined the two accounts, with the text from the summary enclosed in brackets.
My father’s account of the trip begins:
[On June the twenty-fourth 1934, a friend and I started on a camping trip we had been planning since early spring. Our plans were to start out just below Hydro Dam located twelve miles from Albemarle, NC and follow the Pee Dee River down to the coast a distance of some two hundred and fifty miles ending in Georgetown, SC.
Our supplies consisted of one 10 x 12 tarp and two metal cans in which to carry and keep dry our extra shirt and pair of duck trousers and a couple suits of underwear, razors, 1 thermos jug, and two camp kits and a pretty good food supply. We started out early one morning, loaded our stuff on our canoe which is a 16 foot Old Town type and shoved off.
We had not been started long until we soon found we were in a for a hard time or at least part of the trip for the river was very low on account of the water being cut off at the dam. So there was nothing to do but put on our bathing suits, get out and pull the boat through shallow places and over the rocks. We has this to contend with until nearly three thirty in the afternoon at which time we began entering Blewett Falls lake made by another power dam, where we had to make portage. On reaching the dam we learned that they were getting ready to cut off more water here and that we had to get around and get started as quickly as possible. This meant about 45 minutes hard work and more hard paddling. We finally made camp about five miles below this place. And were we tired!]
Thursday noon or 1 o’clock - Just finished eating dinner and shoving off again. We are now within about 8 or 10 miles of Blewett Falls. Have made pretty good time considering crossing nine fish dams and being unable to shoot but three of them. Boy what a thrill have had no trouble at all. We have seen some wonderful scenery already. Thursday night - More dams, waterfalls and what not. We are now below Blewett Falls and what a job. No more portages for me. Had to keep moving for fear they would cut off the water. So we stopped about four miles below the dam. Saw plenty of big fish, but didn’t take time to fish any and now to roost for the night.
[The next day was almost as bad having gone through what is known as Buchanan Shoals - two or three miles of the roughest water we never knew to expect. To avoid a smash- up, "Trouble" the friend who was working the stern would say, "Tell me where and I’ll put it there", so it was my job to look for an opening through the rocks.
We’d had real good luck until our last day of rough water which ended near Cheraw, SC something like a hundred miles from our starting point. We heard these rapids long before we saw we had something big. I picked out what looked to be a swift deep current. But my guess this time proved to be wrong, for instead of the current going straight with the course of the river it took a sudden turn to the left pushing us broadside against two large rocks. But with a little quick thinking and action saved us from a really bad smashup. "Trouble" stuck his foot over the gunnels just in time to break the force of the impact. And I just as quickly as possible stuck my paddle down and helped to hold it while "Trouble" climbed out on the rock, righted the boat, got us straight with the current and in again. This happened about 4:30 in the afternoon, so we decided we had had enough for one day. As we drifted by a pier, we asked two fishermen about a camping place. They gave us the information and wanted to know how we came through without having a spill and said we were through with rough water for the balance of the trip, for from here on the river was much deeper and not near so wide which was quite a relief to both of us.]
Friday night - At last we are at Cheraw and have we had a day – tired, and how – had worst falls today last one was most dangerous of all. But we finally made it, went up town, got here at five. Wrote two cards, bought some stuff and now Troy has gone up town. Made canoe repairs.
47 miles below Cheraw. Well here it is Sunday. We had a pretty good day yesterday. Everything was fine in the morning, made swell time. Got to Society Hill about eleven thirty, ate dinner and shoved off at twelve. A bad storm caught us about 2:30, lasted for about 45 minutes. We started to pull in to shore but a tree fell in the river so we decided to stay in the middle and take it after the storm cleared up. We came in contact with our first cottonmouth moccasin swimming across the river. Boy, I wish it was duck season. We have seen numbers and numbers of droves of little ducks just a few weeks old.
About three or three 30 we came to a little house setting about 65 feet above the water on the river bank, right on the outside bend of the river affording a wonderful view each way. Got out, went up and talked to the lady who had lived in Albemarle when she was about 13. A Mrs. Clay. After we left there and paddled for some time.
Another storm caught us even worse than the other. But we just kept moving. Finally it cleared up again. We then began to look for a place to spend the night but by the time we put foot on shore the mosquitoes would all but eat us up. The only place they don’t bother you is in the middle of the river so we decided to drift all night. Troy was going to take first turn at steering. But about 9:00 o’clock he ran into a sand dune or shoal which forms an island, which makes a swell campsite because mosquitoes will not bother you on an island. It thundered, lightened, and rained from before midnight until after 4:00 this morning. We sure did have some time keeping our stuff dry. It is still cloudy this morning. Will tell you more about it later in the day.
Sunday night - Left our temporary camp this morning, stopped at a ferry about a mile below and talked to an old negro who told us we were 47 miles below Cheraw and we were 40 miles from Pee Dee. This was about 10:30 and we stayed with it till about 4:00 o’clock. Troy went up to the place and I watched things. When he got back we decided to look for a camping place farther down. Talked to a boy at the highway bridge who told us we were 100 or 120 miles from Georgetown but we could find a camping place about 8 miles farther down, which we never found, so we drifted until about 10:30 last night, found a sand bar, got out rolled up in our blankets and spent the night. Boy, is the moonlight pretty down on this river!
Monday - Got up early this morning, shoved off without breakfast, decided to paddle until we got hungry. Came upon a landing, some fellows told us we were about 12 or 15 miles from another bridge where we could get some good water so we decided to eat breakfast at it, but the fellows must have been wrong for we were 2 ½ hours getting there. But the water was fine, so we ate breakfast and left at eleven (we don’t know where the next stop is). Paddled all afternoon without seeing anyone. Canoed through a big swamp.
You don’t have to go to Africa to see alligators slide off into the water. Troy almost gave out this evening so I told him to lay down across our stuff in the canoe and I’d paddle. I kept hearing things slide in the water, got to looking, and it was alligators and how! I had to rouse Troy to see them. They won’t bother you if you let them alone, which we are doing.
Right at night we overtook two white men and a negro in a dugout whose names were Carter and Cooper. Made camp somewhere above Little Pee Dee about 6:30. First real camp we have had for two days. When we first pulled up we thought we were not going to be bothered by mosquitoes. But did we catch it from 8 until after midnight! You should see the fish playing, not little fish, but big fish. We are taking a much deserved rest.
Wednesday morning – We shove off from our last camping place about 9:30, paddled until about eleven before we saw anyone then we came across two more fellows in another dugout. One of the men’s named M. P. Martin. They were very nice, showed us where the Swamp Fox and his men had their hideout between the two Pee Dees.
We left them, came 8 or 10 miles to the Yohanna Bridge, ate our dinner, left there and came on down the Pee Dee instead of going out Bull Creek as we had been advised, and am I glad of it. We came about 10 miles, stopped at a hunting lodge, saw a negro with an ox cart who we asked about a place to say. He said if we would go about five miles we would find a Mr. LaBrue and his wife who might give us a place to stay. Said he was a mighty nice fellow, but we have found them to be even more than that. They are swell. Live in a beautiful home that fronts on the river known as the Exchange plantation.
After spending a most enjoyable night we shove off at eleven with the tide. On our way we stopped at the old Don Sparkman Place known as Darlington, got in to Georgetown about 4:00, had a tough time crossing the river but finally made it. Came up town, sent a telegram, met the fire chief and a lot of other swell guys and found a swell place to stay.
And so concludes the journal. A clipping from the Albemarle newspaper reported that the paddlers had wired the news that they arrived in Georgetown…two days ahead of schedule.
Several years earlier, Dr. Douglas L. Rights had floated the Yadkin-Pee Dee all the way from North Wilkesboro to Georgetown. His account, a much more detailed, and quite engaging, story is available online: http://www.everydaycounselor.com/yadkin/yadkin1.htm (and following)
Rights' account also appears in the out-of-print book, YADKIN PASSAGE AND A VOYAGE DOWN THE YADKIN-GREAT PEEDEE RIVER, by Floyd Rogers, in which modern (1980s) adventurers retraced the same trip.
Dr. Rights later authored a classic historical work, The American Indian in North Carolina. To end this story, here's the conclusion from Right’s account of his voyage down the Yadkin-Pee Dee:
There is only a closing word.
What does this voyage signify? Aside from the pleasure and adventure there comes a striking remuneration. The river is a symbol of the well-spent life.
With its origin among the clouds, its source in the heart of the earth, it bespeaks the mystery of our advent. A brooklet crystal clear, with jocund leap and silvery chatter, pictures childhood, pure, innocent and gay. A strong current through the foothills, assuming the native hues of the soil through which it runs, it becomes in the middle stage of its career a vast power for service, sending out its strength of electrical energy to countless factories and homes; this is but an exemplification of the well-spent life that gives the strength of mature years to the benefit of our kind.
At last, richer, deeper, fuller, it moves calmly onward borne by the very accumulation of the past, not as some rivers that dissipate their reserves over dry and arid plains and finally trickle out amid the sands. Thus, too, the well-spent life, gathering the accumulation of the past, enters serene and brave into the lowlands of old age, and moves steady and unafraid to mingle at last in the great ocean we call eternity.
[A dusty box of old family photos helped convince me to abandon the daily blog routine. I’ve been taking some time to scan the photos and identify people and places pictured in the old prints. I’ve found a few photos that aren’t your usual family portraits or vacation snapshots. Here’s the caption for one of those pictures.]
click on photo for better view It was a thrill to play for the Padres. The fans cheered and my feeling was it was because I was a San Diego boy making good. It had nothing to do with race. – John Ritchey
At first glance, nothing is particularly remarkable about the black-and-white photograph, a simple portrait of a visiting team, waiting to play in the World Series of the American Legion baseball league.
Growing up in Albemarle some years later, I knew that one of the most exciting and memorable events in the town’s history was winning the 1940 championship in front of the home crowd. To prepare for the finals, a crew of 100 carpenters added bleachers to the little ball park. All the stores and schools in town were ordered to close early on game days. Governor Clyde R. Hoey came from Raleigh to throw out the first ball.
Thousands thronged to the games. Albemarle’s star pitcher would be known as "Lefty" for the rest of his life.
That was the legend I knew.
But only after finding the photograph of San Diego’s American Legion Post 6 team did I learn there was much more to the story. At the instant that my father snapped the shutter, one player on the second row was partially obscured from view, cap pulled down, chin in hand. The player’s name was John Ritchey.
A powerful hitter, Ritchey was 15 years old when he propelled San Diego’s title run in 1938. The team advanced to the national semifinals in Spartanburg, SC, where officials barred Ritchey and another African-American player, Nelson Manuel [second row, second from right] from the game. Nevertheless, San Diego managed to overcome the racist chicanery and took the national championship that year.
Ritchey’s coach, Mike Morrow, was a San Diego legend whose high school teams included whites, blacks and Hispanics. Well into a successful season of American Legion play in 1940, Morrow wanted to prevent a repeat of 1938's player ban. For the national semifinals played in Shelby, NC, officials did allow Ritchey and Manuel to take the field.
Following their semifinals win, San Diego moved on to the finals against Albemarle. Anticipating problems, Coach Morrow threatened to take his entire team back to California if his players were ruled ineligible.
Two days before the first game, the Charlotte Observer reported it was "understood" that officials would allow them to play. One day before the opener, the newspaper (under the headline "Colored Boys Will Start for Pacifics") added:
A telegraphic poll conducted today by a Charlotte sportscaster brought replies from many North Carolina and out-of-state towns, all requesting that the colored lads be allowed to play.
The next day, reporting on the outcome of the first game, the paper stated that Ritchey and Manuel watched from the dugout because national Legion officials made the request not to use black players.
San Diego took the first two games over Albemarle by scores of 6-5 and 3-2, but Albemarle came back to tie the series with 6-3 and 7-5 victories against the California team.
In the fifth and deciding game, Albemarle held off a frantic San Diego rally to take a 9-8 win and claim the title. Although he was not allowed to play in the finals, John Ritchey was awarded a trophy as the tournament’s leading hitter.
In a wrap-up on the series, September 7, 1940, Observer sports writer Jake Wade addressed the controversy:
A crowd of something like 12,500 wrote history, with frenzied emotion such as has never been witnessed in a ball park in the Carolinas.
The crowd did not always behave so nicely. Parts of the crowd, I should say. The boos for the San Diego colored boys, when Coach Mike Morrow of the Coasters ill-advisedly had them warming up, was brutal. No credit to those who were guilty in this baseball crazy, partisan-mad assembly that overflowed Efird-Wiscassett Park.
Albemarle grasped it. Lisk flicked his pitch-out. The runner on third was nailed flat-footed. The ball game was over. Albemarle’s young men were junior champions of the world. The house came down, and tonight the bells were still ringing, the horns blowing, hoarse voices still whooping. The little kingpins were being accorded a rousing salute, and no kingpins deserved one more.
Art Cohn, sports editor for the Oakland Tribune, took a harder line against the ouster of San Diego’s players:
A great club, that San Diego team. It waded through the local, State, sectional and National play-offs and loomed as a cinch for the title. Until it hit Albemarle. Then hell broke loose.
Once below the Mason and Dixon, the most un-American of prejudices, racial discrimination, reared its ugly head, and, as a result, two regulars on the San Diego team were ruled ineligible. It seems that John Ritchey and Nelson Manuel, the two boys involved, had been found guilty…of being Negroes.
Ritchey and Manuel were good enough to play with and against their white brothers in California, Arizona, and even in Shelby, North Carolina, but it was a different story in Albemarle. There the good citizens had not yet learned that the Civil War recently ended.
So San Diego took the field for the first time without Ritchey and Manuel, and San Diego was beaten for the first time. It was a great triumph for Albemarle. The village should be proud of its contribution to American tolerance.
In a 1995 interview, John Ritchey recalled his life in baseball and his disastrous trip to Albemarle:
My earliest memories are of playing baseball, because there wasn't anything else to do. Most of my friends were White. Peanuts [Henry Savin] was a Mexican kid. The others were Nelson Manuel, Billy Williams, William Indalecio, Tom and Luis Ortiz. We played sandlot ball and the San Diego Police sponsored the league. Nelson was easy going and one time he got a job selling ice cream. It only lasted for one day, because he ate too much of the ice cream he was supposed to sell. He didn't get to eat much at home. They were good times playing with my friends....
With Post 6, I was taking batting practice in Albemarle and I hit a couple of line drives over the fence. They wouldn’t let me play for the National Championship game!
During World War II, Ritchey served as a staff sergeant in the Army Corps of Engineers and earned five battle stars from duty in Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and Berlin. After the war, Ritchey returned to baseball and led the Negro American League with a .369 batting average in 1947. The following year, he broke the color barrier in the Pacific Coast League when he joined the San Diego Padres, had seven hits in his first 11 at-bats and finished the season with a .323 average.
Although he never played in the major leagues, Ritchey enjoyed a successful baseball career until his retirement from the game in 1955. After baseball, Johnny and his wife Lydia raised a family in San Diego, where he worked as a deliveryman with Continental Bread Company for twenty years. Ritchey died in 2003 at the age of 80.
Two years later the San Diego Padres paid tribute to the "Jackie Robinson of the West Coast" by unveiling a bronze bust of John Ritchey. Tom Shanahan writes about what happened when family and friends raised money for the sculpture:
San Diego baseball historian Bill Swank came across some stories that tell us about John Ritchey as a man. "One guy said Johnny Ritchey didn’t know him, but he knew Johnny," Swank said. "He donated $200 because every time he saw Johnny around [San Diego State University] he would smile and say hello. He said he never forgot what a nice guy he was, and he knew what Johnny had been through in North Carolina."
Swank said a woman donated money because Ritchey had once rescued her from being taunted on campus by some bullies. Think about that for a moment: In 1940, Ritchey, a black man, stopped white bullies from tormenting a white girl.
"She said Johnny Ritchey’s bust should be made out of gold," Swank recalled.
Looking again at the photograph, I see nothing particularly remarkable in the image. Young ballplayers, far from home, looking a bit distracted. A team photo, not so different from thousands of others. Light and shadow of one split second from a September day, creating a picture of victory and defeat, pride and shame, back in my home town.