Charles Kuralt’s North Carolina

About twenty years ago, my historical consciousness was awakened when my fourth grade teacher rolled the massive TV cart into our Dorothy B. Johnson Elementary classroom and popped in a VHS tape of Charles Kuralt’s UNC-TV production North Carolina is My Home.

A native of my own hometown, Wilmington, North Carolina, Charles Kuralt climbed the ranks of journalism at CBS News in the 1960s and 1970s until his retirement in 1994. Tuesday marked the twentieth anniversary of his death and, for me, marked the memory of some of my earliest curiosities about the past. In 1987, Kuralt released North Carolina is My Home with the University of North Carolina’s Center for Public Television — a production featuring footage of North Carolinians, photographs, historical reenactments, music, and more that highlighted the state’s history and culture. The production was re-released in 1991 with new, updated images. Looking back now, it also catalogs a social and cultural landscape that, to me, seems very far removed in the past.

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Charles Kuralt at Grandfather Mountain, 1994

Fourth-graders in North Carolina are presented with a Social Studies curriculum that focuses on the state’s history and culture. For me, that included reading about North Carolina history, watching Kuralt, and visiting local historic sites and landmarks through the Historic Wilmington Foundation’s “Tarheels Go Walking” program.

That year also followed the death of my grandfather, Harvey Frederick Sherman, and inaugurated a closeness with my grandmother, Mamie Irene Brown Sherman. I would get off the school bus in the afternoons, and run over to my grandparents’ house (which was conveniently located on the main road, catty-cornered to my own). As she whipped up an afternoon batch of biscuits or cornbread with ham hocks simmering on the stove, and coffee bubbling in the percolator, I listened to her tell stories about her childhood in the pine-barrens community of Rowan, North Carolina.

I wanted to know more about the past. I loved old things. Something sparked in my young mind, circa 1996-1997, that has not gone out.

While there are some historical problems with Kuralt’s nostalgic approach to North Carolina, the documentary reminds me of my childhood, my family, and the place I call home. Archived footage of the 1991 production, much to my delight, can be now be found online.

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