Mount Airy News

Youths urged to follow King’s example

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Looking around a meeting room containing a number of young faces Saturday night, a moderator for a program honoring Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged the generation gap between the late Dr. King and some audience members.

“Many of us in the room grew up in the same time period in which he lived and became a leader,” Cheryl Yellow Fawn Scott told a crowd of more than 100 people gathered at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.

In contrast, those who weren’t around when the civil rights icon was assassinated in 1968 seemingly can identify with him only through old film clips or staticky recordings of his historic speeches.

However, local young people have a greater link to King than they might think, Scott and other speakers at the 11th-annual MLK tribute said. This includes realizing his “dream” without possibly knowing it by engaging in community service and otherwise working for a better world, which Dr. King would be proud of if alive today.

Saturday night’s event — which museum officials said drew the largest MLK program attendance ever — served to help bridge the gap by recognizing the importance of young people in perpetuating the lessons he espoused.

“This year we are focusing on our youth,” explained LaDonna McCarther, who helped organize the annual museum program along with Scott and other volunteers. “We thought it was time to recognize our young people.”

This was accomplished by singling out certain youths for their contributions, such as one who tirelessly volunteers every year during a community Thanksgiving meal at First Baptist Church. Young people also played an active role in Saturday’s program by performing song and dance selections.

The multi-racial event additionally featured several soloists — such as Tracy Greenwood, Tony Searcy and Elizabeth Martin — and prayer, poetry and scripture reading.

At one point, a “Let Freedom Ring” responsive reading was held in which audience members were given small bells to jingle at certain intervals. In doing so, they joined others at more than 300 known locations in paying homage to King’s directive to let freedom ring during his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.

Other highlights Saturday night were candle-lighting ceremonies and an audience singing of “Amazing Grace” to end the program.

“Torch Bearer”

Sandwiched between the various activities, the lessons of Martin Luther King Jr. took center stage at the museum, including constant reminders to never forget the truly remarkable place he holds in American history.

“Martin…became the spokesperson — he became the torch bearer,” Scott said of the civil rights movement.

Audience members were reminded that King did so at a time when standing up for equality wasn’t popular, during a turbulent period of segregation when African-Americans were banned from certain restaurants and endured other racist acts.

“It was just really a rough time in our history — but everybody persevered,” Scott said. “That’s what I want you young people to remember.”

The sacrifices King made for his cause in seeking educational and economic opportunity for all can’t be underestimated, Scott continued.

King’s home was bombed and he received numerous threats as he toured racial hot spots around the country, leading to his eventual slaying in Memphis.

Yet during his brief lifetime the civil rights leader chose to battle foes with love that emanated from a deep religious faith. He once admitted that it was difficult to like someone seeking to harm his family, “but Jesus says love them,” Scott related.

“I don’t think there is any way he could have taken this on if he did not have a strong belief in God.”

This was evident until the time King was killed, Scott told the audience, including remarking in a speech the night before his assassination that “I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate myself.”

The spirit of Saturday night’s tribute to Dr. King and others who fought and died to achieve equality also was captured in a prayer by minister Kathy Dobson.

“We thank you for the one we are honoring,” Dobson said, “for the legacy our forefathers have left for us to celebrate and to enjoy.”

The minister said she hopes to one day encounter King in heaven and hear him assess the job others have done to carry on the dream with two simple words: “Well-done.”

Spirit of MLK to be honored at museum

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Organizers of “The Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Surry County Continues The Dream” will focus on youth as the eleventh such annual event is held Jan. 17 at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. The free celebration is open to the public and is slated to be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

“Traditionally this is one of our best attended programs,” said Museum Executive Director Matthew Edwards. “This program is almost completely run by volunteers with us providing them a venue. The emphasis on youth this year is a way for the community to honor Dr. Martin Luther King and people who embody the spirit of his legacy.”

Edwards said the volunteers have always delivered a great program. He said light refreshments will be served following the event this year. This year’s celebration will include music, interpretative dance and theatrical performance. He said an awards ceremony is also planned and will honor youth in the community.

“They will be our leaders in the future,” said Program Coordinator LaDonna McCarther, who shares event director duties with her sister, Cheryl Yellow Fawn Scott. “We felt it was important to recognize them. We plan to honor the achievements of youth in a variety of fields such as academics, athletics and community service.” Plans have not yet been finalized, but McCarther said at least several youths would be honored.

She said the theme for the celebration is drawn from the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy, Chapter 4, Verse 12 where the apostle writes “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” In addition to the youth honored being given a call to service, the audience will be asked to participate in a blessing of the youth.

The tentative listing of talent included soloists Tracy Greenwood, Donnie Nicholson, Tony Searcy and Elizabeth Martin. Performers will include the VIP Praise Team directed by Marie Nicholson, Janice Thompson performing the Lord’s Prayer in American sign language and the praise team from the Greater Grace Temple Holiness Church of Winston-Salem directed by Mikki Robertson.

Readers for the celebration will include Sanchez Jarvis and Mount Airy Branch Librarian Pat Gwyn. Walter Jarvis and Deon Dood Cook will serve as candle lighters for the ceremonies. Melva Houston Tucker will do sound for the event and Don Robert Smith will serve as videographer.

“We want to give special recognition to all the help we receive from the museum,” said McCarther, who praised the efforts of staffers Amy Snider, Nancy Davis, Matt Edwards and Karen Nealis. “Each year we honor a Surry County individual who has been a good example of keeping Dr. King’s dream going. We will be doing this again this year.” In 2014, Faye Carter and Alfrida Gaines received this honor.

New Look, New Products

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Organizers say recent renovations at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History have one goal: To make people look at the local museum as not only a place to revisit history, but a great shopping destination as well.

Museum Director Matt Edwards said much of the summer was spent renovating the shop with the help of Andrew Pearson Design and Interlam, who worked to provide products and services to renovate the space.

For Edwards, it is about perception. "This renovation is part of a plan to make the museum more welcoming and inviting, and to really make the retail component of the museum a more vital part of the downtown business district,” he said. “People sometimes forget that while we’re a museum, we also have a store here that’s home to a great many products and resources.”

Edwards said the renovations also allowed him to expand on the store’s offerings. “We wanted to be able to revamp the space and increase both the quality and quantity available through the shop,” he said.

In the near future, shoppers will even be able to purchase locally-made artwork. “We’ve been working with a number of local artisans to bring more local artwork into the space, which not only allows shoppers to pick up one-of-a-kind artwork, but gives the artists another venue to market their work,” he said.

In addition, Edwards said the renovations have allowed him to expand the book and music offerings “pretty substantially.”

Shoppers can even purchase hard-to-find recordings at the store. “To my knowledge, we’re the only outlet in town that’s carrying the Old Blue Records label, which offers a wide variety of old-time and bluegrass music, much of it recorded in this area,” he said. “We have a pretty expansive catalog here in the store.”

With the holidays on the horizon, Edwards said it’s time to get the word out. “For us, this is a way, particularly moving into the holidays, for people to support the museum in a little different way,” he said. “People may not think about coming to a museum to shop for the holidays, but we want people to recognize that our retail store is a place they can come for unique, quality products they may not be able to get elsewhere in the community.”

Visitors to the museum may notice “a change or two,” Edwards said with a sly grin. "People will see a completely different space,” he said. “If you’ve been here in the past and look at the new shop, it’s been completely renovated. It’s much more open compared to the traditional space that was there before."

“The size increased a little bit, but the big change was in dealing with the layout and flow for shoppers,” Edwards added. “We may have added 100 square feet, but it feels much, much bigger and it flows much better for the visitor and shopper.”  Edwards said the retail store now stocks around 600 different items.

“And we’re still in the process of expanding those offerings, and will be bringing in more merchandise as we move forward next year,” he said.

Cigar box guitar workshop set Saturday

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Consider it something of an encore for the “seegar geetar.”

Because of its success last year, officials at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History are bringing back a program designed to help preserve the musical heritage of the region — the cigar box guitar workshop.

This year’s second annual event, which will see attendees leave with their very own hand-crafted musical instrument, is set for Saturday, Nov. 15, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Registration is $100 for the general public and $75 for museum members, according to museum director Matt Edwards.

“The registration fee includes everything,” he said. “It includes all the materials, instruction, coursework and even lessons in how to play to wrap up the day.”

Last year, the museum hosted the workshop as a way to complement its Luthier’s Craft exhibit, which closed in the spring.

But the workshop’s success led Edwards to try it a second time.

“Last year’s event was fantastic,” he said. “We sold out the number of spaces available. Because it’s such a hands-on activity, we have to limit the class size to 10. It sold out last year and everyone had a fantastic time. I suspect some of the attendees last year will be back this time.”

Edwards said he is trying to create more annual programs at the museum.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been trying to add in more recurring programming,” he said. “This one has been very successful, and the other we’ve continued is the Batik egg workshop we host around Easter.”

The museum director said the current focus on traditional music makes the workshop a must-attend for music lovers.

“If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to experiment with the traditional music movement going on these days, this is a great first step,” he said, “and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than going out and buying an instrument, plus, you get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve built your instrument yourself.”

The cigar box guitar came about out of necessity, according to the museum director.

“The cigar box instrument is a fairly old tradition,” he said. “People who couldn’t afford to purchase commercially-made instruments actually went out and made their own, and the cigar box made an easy conduit to build the body of these instruments. It was a ready-made component that many people had around.”

Edwards called the cigar box guitar a “gateway instrument.”

“Many of the luthiers we worked with for last year’s Luthier’s Craft exhibit actually started by building cigar box instruments,” he said. “This is a pretty common gateway craft that leads to the more refined instruments they’re building now as professionals.”

And in today’s breakneck world, many craftsmen are returning to their roots.

“Today, there has been a revival of interest in cigar box instrument making, and there are blues musicians out there who are playing them,” he said. “They’re really fascinating pieces of functional art.

“Cigar box guitars can even be fitted with pick-ups that will allow them to be played both electronic and acoustically,” Edwards said. “And one of the great things about them is they’re made with a minimal number of specialty parts. Other than the tuning keys and corner braces, pretty much everything you need to build one is readily available at the local hardware store.”

The workshop will be conducted by Mike Lowe, whom Edwards describes as a “local folklorist, musician and artist.”

“He’s the perfect person to instruct this workshop,” Edwards said.

Limited space is available, so Edwards said advance registration is encouraged.

For more information call the museum at 336-786-4478.

History talk opens new museum law enforcement exhibit

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The Surry County Law Enforcement History Exhibit opened at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History Saturday with a history talk titled “Countdown to Tragedy? 1972 Surry County Sheriff’s Department Hostage Standoff.” The event was an example of history shared is history remembered.

The talk included first-hand accounts of the standoff, which was featured by national news media. Hostages and officers in attendance were David Beal, C.R. “Ronnie” Davis, Mike Hensley, Wallace Creed, Mitchell Davis, Ila White and C.R. “Pete” Gillespie. Justin Stirewalt served as moderator for the history talk.

Museum Executive Director Matthew Edwards credited the work of Stirewalt’s own personal collection of law enforcement memorabilia for forming the bulk of the exhibit.

“Historically, a lot of the gear for law enforcement had to be purchased by the officers themselves,” said Stirewalt. “Up until the mid-1970s sheriff’s deputy’s had to buy their own cars. You’d be surprised what turns up in people’s closets.  Some departments have been holding on to items, but a great deal of the early history has been lost. What is here is a snapshot of the profession from the 1950s to late 1980s.”

He said law enforcement training early on was mostly what officers could learn on the street compared to training standards today. Stirewalt said Basic Law Enforcement Training now involves 600 hours of training. He opened the talk by thanking the packed room for “coming out to see what was in your closets.”

Panelists White, Davis, Creed and Hensley were hostages in the incident which occurred in October of 1972. Roy Duncan had returned to the office after filing a missing persons report for his wife, Faye.

White said he returned, casually carrying a shotgun as if he was going to register the weapon, which was a common practice then. She said Duncan pointed the gun at her and demanded help finding his wife. Staffer Karen Allen, who was also on duty, calmly pushed the alarm pedal. Creed heard the alarm dispatched and responded to the call, entering the office through a side door.

“He was sitting behind the desk with a shotgun when I came in,” recalled Creed. “He told me to give him my pistol and there was nothing else I could do.” Davis was the next deputy to arrive. Davis explained how Duncan later ordered him to “go get a pill to keep him awake” and then, suspecting a trick, made him take half the capsule with scalding hot coffee.

Frustration was evident as Davis recalled how he was powerless to help his partner, who later left and came back with balloons to comfort a 4-year-old girl who accompanied Duncan and made everyone nervous by playing with the cocked shotgun Duncan held. All agreed they were certain someone was going to be shot accidentally. Creed had been given another pistol he concealed in his back pocket.

Meanwhile, the area around the office filled with crowds, media, sharpshooters and officers from surrounding departments. Eventually, some hostages were released. Faye Duncan was located and brought to the scene. Prior to this Beal, who was a State Bureau of Investigation agent, heard the call and helped officers with his knowledge of Mount Airy to help direct the overall strategy.

Officers who had brought Faye Duncan from High Point arrived and in short order Duncan agreed to give up pistols and the shotgun. The two were allowed to talk and reportedly at 1:52 that afternoon, Duncan was escorted out to the patrol car and the standoff was over.

The exhibit includes items from Surry County Sheriff’s Office, Surry County Constable, Mount Airy Police Department, Elkin Police Department, Pilot Mountain Police Department, Dobson Police Department, Surry County E-911 Communications, Surry Community College Campus Police, Surry County Animal Control, and Boggs Patrol Service.

Thsi exhibit will run through mid February 2015. Interested persons may visit for museum hours.

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