) -- Perhaps the exhilaration surrounding the election of the first black president will be restored next month by a historic juxtaposition, when Barack Obama will be renominated nine blocks from the last meeting of the full Confederate cabinet.
Charlotte is a city of the New South today, its downtown vibrant and filled with skyscrapers, corporate headquarters, museums, upscale restaurants and professional sports facilities. That is the city Obama selected as the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which will take place during the week of Sept. 3.
While few Civil War battles were fought in North Carolina, the war's closing in April 1865 brought a focus on North Carolina and Charlotte, a small town with a few thousand residents. The second surrender of Confederate troops, following the April 9 Appomattox surrender, was in Durham. The last full meeting of the Confederate cabinet occurred on April 26, 1865, in a planter's home near downtown Charlotte.
That April, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet fled Richmond. They reached Greensboro by train and mounted horses. Accompanied by cavalry and wagon trains, they continued south to Charlotte, arriving April 18. Eight days later, following the last full cabinet meeting, they departed for South Carolina. For a week and one day, Charlotte was the Confederacy's de facto capital. Thus it is sometimes referred to as "the Last Capital of the Confederacy."
Few remnants of the Confederate legacy exist today. The one most likely to be noticed by convention visitors is a plaque embedded in the sidewalk on South Tryon Street near Fourth Street. The plaque states: "Jefferson Davis was standing here when informed of Lincoln's death. April 18, 1865." A second plaque, on North Tryon Street between Phifer Avenue and 10th Street, commemorates the final cabinet meetings, between April 22 and April 26
The plaques, like the sites of the two homes occupied by the widow of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, are all within blocks of Time Warner Cable Arena, the convention site, and of Bank of America Stadium, where Obama will give his acceptance speech.
In the century and a half since the Civil War ended, Charlotte remade itself. Downtown is home to the headquarters of
Bank of America
, the Levine Museum of the New South, two new art museums and the Nascar Hall of Fame. The city is also the largest, most profitable hub for
"Charlotte is a New South city," said Tom Hanchett, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South. "It existed during the Civil War and had some importance, but this city's character has been shaped by reinvention since the Civil War. That spirit of reinvention is one of the reasons why the DNC decided to come to Charlotte. It is a city with a history but has never been a prisoner of its history."
James Ferguson, a Charlotte attorney who has been heavily involved in the civil rights movement, said Obama's renomination "is a historic event that is even more historic than the Confederate cabinet's last meeting here.
"The nomination comes at a time when Charlotte is seeking to identify itself as a world class city, as a city coming into its full identity after a period of phenomenal growth," Ferguson said. "In terms of African-Americans, there is this whole question of whether we are reaching a point where there is full equality or are we still dealing with having a first African-American this or that, and (saying) 'that seems to be enough.'"
The continuing quest for full equality is symbolized by the renomination, Ferguson said, adding: "This election is equally important if not more important than the first election of President Obama, because it takes two terms for a president to really push forward a full program."
David Goldfield, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said the Charlotte renomination is compelling because "the Confederacy was born as a defense of slavery, and yet here in the last capital of the Confederacy we're nominating a black man for president.
"It's something we should feel very proud of," Goldfield said. "We have come a long way as a region and we have come a long way as a country. White supremacy was not confined to the South -- it was a national ailment."
Perhaps the best place to learn about Charlotte's Civil War history is the Carolina room in Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's downtown branch. The Carolina Room's collection includes a first edition of
The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government
by Jefferson Davis, published in 1881.
Davis describes learning of Lincoln's death immediately after his arrival in Charlotte, writing: "I there received, at the moment of dismounting, a telegram from General Breckinridge, announcing, on information received from General Sherman, that President Lincoln had been assassinated."
Lincoln died April 15. Davis called the news "sad" and "evil." He decried revisionist history, which had already emerged, promulgated by a man "who invented the story of my having read the dispatch with exultation." The man was not present, said Davis, who called Lincoln's death "a great misfortune for the South."
The History of Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte
by textile magnate David Tompkins, published in Charlotte in 1903 and available in the Carolina Room, describes the arrival of Davis and the cabinet, accompanied by 1,000 cavalry. Davis went to a home, where he was to stay, at the corner of Fourth and Tryon. Tompkins wrote: "Before entering the house, a telegram was handed to him, and as he read it, he exclaimed "Can this be true? This is dreadful. It is horrible." Davis entered the home, handing the telegram to a Confederate colonel to read aloud.
"Confederate officials were hospitably entertained during their stay in the city," Tompkins wrote. Another book
The History of Mecklenburg County from 1740 to 1900
by J.B. Alexander, a doctor, was published in Charlotte 1902. It describes the last full meeting of the cabinet in the home of W.F. Phifer, a planter and slaveholder owner of a five-acre parcel bounded by Tryon and College streets near 12th Street.
"The last full meeting of the Confederate cabinet was held in the west room upstairs in the house," Tompkins wrote. "The cause of its meeting there was the fact that Mr. Trenholm, the secretary of the treasury, was ill and confined to his bed." At the April 26 meeting, George Trenholm tendered his resignation, Alexander wrote. Also in Charlotte, Attorney General George Davis asked to be relieved of his duties so he could be with his family. Thus, two or three subsequent cabinet meetings in South Carolina did not involve the full cabinet.
Another Charlotte link to the Confederacy is that between 1873 and 1935, Anna Morrison Jackson lived on Trade Street. Her home at 507 Trade Street became a gathering place for Confederate veterans. They "came to bewail the changes brought about by years under military government and Republican rule," wrote Kathy Neill Herron, in a 1997 biography of Morrison and her family. "Anna wisely eased their anger and concern by telling the veterans to look toward General Robert E. Lee as their example (as he) lived pliantly and without malice after the war."
One wonders what those veterans would have to say, were they to return to Charlotte during the convention.
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