Monthly Archives: February 2017
“I was a race driver before I ever hit the track,” said Wendell Scott, the first African American to race NASCAR’s Grand National circuit, in a 1982 interview with the Richmond Times Dispatch. As a moonshine runner, Wendell Scott expertly skirted police on the winding country roads surrounding his Danville, Virginia home. In his own words, Scott proclaimed himself “the greatest moonshine runner of them all, dusting off deputies in a 1946 Packard loaded with jars full of white lightnin’ on a run between Danville, Va., and Charlotte, N.C.”[i]
During prohibition, bootleggers started modifying their cars to go faster and handle better than the cars pursuing them. Though prohibition ended in 1933, the South’s love of moonshine persisted, and so the time-honored custom of outrunning the police to transport illicit goods for profit continued. It was out of the necessity for a speedy vehicle that stock car racing was born. “The need to prove who had the fastest car,” Suzanne Wise explains, “led to weekend races at tracks carved out of pastures and corn fields.”[ii]
And it was via moonshine running that Scott found his way to becoming a bonafide stock car racer. In the 1950s, the Dixie Circuit, a competitor of NASCAR, in an attempt to attract larger audiences to its Danville events, came up with the idea of adding a black driver to its field of exclusively white competitors. Local authorities in Danville were asked who the fastest black driver in town was. The immediate answer was a resounding “Wendell Scott,” followed up by something along the lines of, “We’ve been chasing him for years.”[iii]
Running moonshine provided Scott with the skill he needed as a driver, but his mechanic’s knowledge would prove invaluable during his race career as well. As a child, Scott helped … read more »
The Virginia Newspaper Project loves promoting the Virginia Chronicle newspaper database, but if you need to expand your research from Virginia to other U.S. states, then Chronicling America is the place to visit.
One example of the breadth and depth of the Chron Am database is the 55 African American newspapers from across the US, available online in Chronicling America, (Twitter, #ChronAm).
From the District of Columbia and Virginia to Utah, Idaho, and Louisiana, you can search a wide array of African American titles, with issues dating back to 1850 (The National Era) and up to 1922 (The Richmond Planet, The Appeal, and others).
A Valentine’s Day Search Uncovers a West Virginia Love Grump: The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, February 1856-1859
The Newspaper Project observes Valentine’s Day with a reminder of the search capacity within Virginia Chronicle and the felicities of discovery (spend a morning reading mid 19th century editorials and you’ll write like this too) therein.
From the 136 total titles digitized (that’s over 900,000 pages, a million is in sight. . .when we cross that threshold, be assured you’ll be advised) we chose a West Virginia Daily whose digitization resulted from our ongoing partnership with West Virginia University:Virginia Chronicle’s pre-Civil War holdings start in 1852 and conclude seven years later, leaving seven Februarys to explore. If you select the word “Valentine” and narrow the search to the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, here’s how the results appear:Most of these hits are of proper names or modestly scaled advertisements typical of the time, like the following of 1856:Eight days later, the anti-Cupid appears:
If there’s any hostility in the subterranean heart of Valentine’s Day, our writer is sensitive to it. Though this unsigned Wheeling editorialist is unroused to rancor in 1857, he resurfaces the following year. Can we be sure it’s the same writer? Oh, I think so:
Reading this, one’s curiosity is powered to know more of the cultural context of Valentine’s Day in mid-19th century America. And also, what’s with this guy? Here he (I think we can assume this is not a Miss Angry Hearts) is again, twice more, February 1859:
One tender Valentine to our anonymous writer might have prevented all of the above.… read more »