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Emails to my Therapist

My Family History: A TV Surprise

Dear Nicholas, I was already in a where-did-I-come-from roots-researching mood and then a few weeks ago, TV station WECT in my hometown of Wilmington, NC, aired a bit of my family history that I’m very proud of.

A Startling Moment

The story popped up and surprised my mother, who, a few days short of 96, was as always watching the evening news.

The story was an interview about the civil rights movement in Wilmington: anchor Frances Weller talking with Lewis Hines, a member of the last graduating class at the black high school, Williston.

A Difficult Struggle

Dr. Martin Luther King had been expected to appear at Williston on the night he was murdered, but had changed his plans and instead stayed on another night in Memphis. A fateful decision.

“Dr. King was killed and then Williston closed,” Hines said. “It was not a good year.

A Personal Aside

The part of this civil rights story that touched on my family was a sort of footnote, a piece of Hines’ personal history, three and a half minutes into this story.

What the snippet said and, to the best of my limited technical ability, showed about the Paynes was this:


Hines would go on to college and return to Wilmington as one of the youngest owners of a high-end clothing store in the black community.

He credits a white store owner with helping him get his start.  The owner of Payne’s store in downtown Wilmington.

“Harry Payne was a forward thinker, and I first became involved in the clothing industry through Mr. Payne and Payne’s clothing stores.



and I had an opportunity to know his sons Franc and Harry

and they had a wonderful family.

When I opened the clothing store, I went to him and asked him about it  and he said yeah, I think it’s a great idea. There’s enough money for everybody.”

Further Back…Mixed Family History

Not all my forebears were as enlightened. My family’s more distant past is complicated. I’ve learned that one man died at the Battle of Second Manassas–fighting for the Southern cause–and some of my ancestors owned slaves. I find I don’t want to go to movies about the brutality of slavery and imagine my long-gone relatives as the bad guys.

Nor was I any activist during the civil rights movement myself. I was off to college then and completely taken up with my social life and my English major. I was oblivious. I’m ashamed of that and still trying to come to terms with it, though not doing much to actually make up for it.

But this story I love. I’m so proud of it.  Thanks for indulging me in this bit of family pride.


One added note: my mother was just as involved in the business as my father. She’s my businesswoman model.

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  • March 10, 2018 at 12:14 am Reply

    How lovely to know! I’d be proud too.

    • Peggy Payne
      March 10, 2018 at 2:53 am Reply

      Thanks, Kenju. I sorta wish I’d known this and a lot of other stuff like this back then. I might have turned out more active for social justice myself. Not too late, that’s for sure. But I shouldn’t put it off a lot longer.

  • Amey Miller
    March 10, 2018 at 12:46 am Reply

    That’s a beautiful story/reality Peggy, and I don’t feel indulgent, I feel grateful you shared it. Life is way more complicated than the good guys and the bad guys. Being decent is a big success anywhere anytime. Amey

    PS: We all can be assured that we have things to pay backwards & forward. We don’t even have to know the details, we just have to know in our bones that there are things we inherit that we have to alchemize/translate/make something of. . .

    • Peggy Payne
      March 10, 2018 at 2:55 am Reply

      Yes, although I’m finding it pretty interesting to find out some of the details lately, Amey. Some good stories. Mostly I try to live up to my immediate family, which is sufficient challenge.

  • Bob Braxton
    March 10, 2018 at 1:27 am Reply
    • Peggy Payne
      March 10, 2018 at 2:59 am Reply

      I never saw this before, Bob Braxton. I did know of course that getting a four-year college to Wilmington was a great passion and huge undertaking for my father. He was worried when we were small children that he wouldn’t be able to afford to send us off to school, so he wanted a college close by. I loved reading this bit in the minutes at this link: “…A committee, composed of Graham, Trask, and Harry Payne, was appointed and instructed to join with legisla-
      tors in this area, the Mecklenburg area, and other interested areas in order to explore the idea of a four-year college and to convince the legislature of its merits.”

  • Rachael W.
    March 10, 2018 at 4:13 am Reply

    wonderful story, Peggy. On the lighter side, I can’t believe how much your brother, Harry, looks like your father! Did a double take on that one. Would love to talk to you over tea (or coffee) about this mixture of past attitudes and behaviors in our families long history…good and bad. how to come to terms with that, how to work for justice now, all the ways, large and small, that this is possible.
    Thanks for posting this.

    • Peggy Payne
      March 10, 2018 at 5:11 pm Reply

      Thanks, Rachael. I think you’re doing quite a lot for justice already. And yes, both my brothers look like and are like our daddy. It’s startling how subtle almost indescribable gestures and traits reappear.

  • Cap J
    March 11, 2018 at 10:20 pm Reply

    What a treasure to happen upon validation of your family’s goodness by fluke! All the more significant because based on the milieu of that era, it wasn’t out of political correctness but came from genuine kindness. I’m a visible minority and lately I’ve been looking into white privilege mainly to understand how I have been oppressed by it. In doing so however, I came face to face with my own privilege. I have numerous privileges, although white privilege isn’t one of them. I was oblivious to my own role in perpetuating the oppression to those who didn’t have my privilege. Which is why I now have more compassion when viewing incidents of white privilege due to my own blinders. Once ‘woke’ however, one can never be oblivious again.

    • Peggy Payne
      March 11, 2018 at 10:25 pm Reply

      I’m impressed, Cap J. It would be so easy and understandable for you to ignore your own privilege. Wow!

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