In , with the intention of opening an art museum, a group of citizens purchased a building that had served as the original branch of the U. It had been constructed in Uptown to handle gold ore. During the Civil War, the Mint had been converted into a Confederate and headquarters and hospital.
Today, the museum, which remains in the same spot, is known simply as the Mint Museum. Meanwhile, old mine shafts still lurk beneath Uptown. In , local investors in Charlotte and upstate South Carolina succeeded at completing the first rail line to enter the heart of the Carolinas.
It connected Charlotte with Columbia, South Carolina, where existing tracks transported goods to the port of Charleston, South Carolina. The North Carolina state legislature immediately authorized construction of a second line to link Charlotte with Raleigh, North Carolina. That railroad crossroads made tiny Charlotte a hot spot in the Civil War from to The Confederates manufactured cannon and ironwork for their ships here, and when Richmond, Virginia, fell in the last days of battle, Confederate President Jefferson Davis fled south along the rail lines, holding a final full meeting of his cabinet in a house on Tryon Street.
Though the hardships of war touched most families, Charlotte came out of the Civil War stronger than ever. Troops had cut the railroad to Columbia, but it was quickly restored. African Americans, who comprised 40 percent of Mecklenburg population, were now free. Leaders in Charlotte and across the post-war South talked avidly of creating a New South. The region would no longer rely on slavery and farming; like the North, it would embrace factories and urbanization.
That New South spirit of reinvention still defines Charlotte.
Local promoters began building textile factories, starting with the Charlotte Cotton Mill that still stands at Graham and 5th streets. Charlotte blossomed as the trading city for the region. Or look further to the now-suburban towns of Pineville, Cornelius, Kannapolis, Belmont, Mount Holly and Gastonia, where big brick mill buildings have been reimagined into restaurants, entertainment hubs, businesses and shops.
The glass-roofed Latta Arcade and adjoining Brevard Court in Uptown—where employees of Center City businesses now flock to restaurants and retail during the lunch hour—housed offices of cotton brokers. Myers Park, with its gracious greenways and curving, oak-shaded streets added by renowned Boston, Massachusetts, landscape planner John Nolen, was laid out in the s for mill owners, bankers and utility executives. Across the street, W. Harris operated a food market that blossomed into the regional grocer Harris Teeter.
Charlotte food salesman Philip L. New South prosperity aided educational opportunities. Johnson C. North of the city, elite Davidson College opened its doors to provide a liberal arts education to young white men. These specialized colleges were joined by what is now the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, launched by Bonnie Cone in Colleges possessed no monopoly on culture. WBT, the first radio station licensed in the South, attracted a remarkable array of country music and gospel performers who sang live over the airwaves.
RCA Victor and other record companies visited often. Now a wave of newly elected sheriffs in urban counties in North Carolina is seeking to employ those same considerable powers. Once again, race is a central factor: The sheriffs are African American, and they campaigned on the promise that they would limit cooperation with ICE. That stance is controversial within North Carolina and around the country, but under federal law such cooperation is voluntary—and the sheriffs won popular mandates, sometimes by huge margins.
They took office looking to assert the same local control that their predecessors exercised for generations, but in the service of a progressive and multiracial agenda rather than a white and conservative one. Read: The end of the David Clarke era. That contrast is becoming common across the South, where it is spawning fights over local control and state preemption.
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The early rounds of those bouts—on issues ranging from voting rights to transgender bathrooms, and now to sheriffs and immigration—have often been fought in North Carolina. You might have a different idea of fun than McFadden, who spent 38 years at CMPD, many of them as a homicide detective. In Durham County, a two-term Democrat was driven from office by Clarence Birkhead, the polished former head of the Duke University police department with a habit of quoting Sir Robert Peel, the father of modern policing.
But these seven sheriffs ran on progressive platforms, with changing the approach to immigration and jail conditions the most common issues. None of them has generated nearly as much praise as McFadden, nor as much criticism. To get a mental image of McFadden, imagine the stereotypical sheriff—a taciturn white guy, sporting a crisply starched uniform, neatly cropped hair, and maybe a broad-brimmed hat—and then erase that entirely. The weather was steamy hot, and McFadden had taken off his jacket but wore a vest.
He speaks, at great length, in an it-ought-to-be-impossible hybrid of clipped cop speech and marble-mouthed country drawl. Elliott , one of the school-segregation cases that was combined into the Brown v. Board of Education decision—but his career in law enforcement was a surprise. His earliest memory of the police is being hassled by a white state trooper in his native South Carolina. The stubbornness and willingness to speak his mind that have defined his tenure as sheriff were present at the start of his career. After college, he was one of several black applicants to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department.
McFadden thrived inside CMPD, eventually becoming a homicide detective, using his gregariousness as a central tool for his police work.
By the time he ran for sheriff, he was a local celebrity. A walk from his office to the detention center, directly across the street, took half an hour. First, there was a bull session with his executive assistant on the way out, then a good-natured joshing for a local defense attorney, conversations with a half-dozen corrections officers, and an impromptu reunion with his old homicide partner.
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At first, I thought it was a setup, but as the encounters stretched over several hours, that became a logistical impossibility. McFadden really seemed to know everyone we met, from magistrates to cleaning ladies, and he had inside jokes to share with many of them. When we finally made it inside the detention center, McFadden stopped so often to talk with guards and residents—as he has relabeled inmates—that the major assigned to lead the tour adopted a tone of mock exasperation that seemed to occasionally shade into genuine impatience.
It took more than his natural gregariousness to put McFadden in office. The relationship between community activists and police in Charlotte is sometimes adversarial, as it is in so many cities. Activists had been lobbying Carmichael to end g for years, but while they found that the sheriff was always cordial, they also found him unpersuadable. So they backed McFadden.
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They held rallies and went door-to-door, and the American Civil Liberties Union, in an unusual foray into electoral politics , ran ads on local radio shows assailing the incumbent. Then McFadden beat him at the polls. Advocacy groups have helped elect progressive sheriffs across the country in recent years.
The alliance between activists, reformist sheriffs, and would-be sheriffs is improbable. On one side is an office that embodies the mighty power of law enforcement. On the other are activist groups that are leery of police. But with Donald Trump in the White House, any progress on immigration in Washington seems impossible, and criminal-justice reform often has the greatest impact when achieved at the state and local level.
Progressives have already begun a movement to hold district attorneys to public account and, when possible, replace them. Sheriff accountability is the next front, even though sheriffs tend to be even more politically and institutionally conservative than prosecutors. In recent years, many conservative sheriffs have made national headlines, led by Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, and Clarke, both of whom are close allies of President Trump.
Trump pardoned Arpaio after a conviction of criminal contempt of court, and considered Clarke for several administration jobs. Sheriffs are 95 percent white and 99 percent male, according to a study by Emily Farris and Mirya Holman. The office of the sheriff is among our more ancient inheritances from the English legal system, pre-dating even the Norman Conquest—kings appointed shire-reeves to act as their delegates in counties, collecting taxes and enforcing laws.
Nearly every state has sheriffs, and in most states the office is written into the state constitution as the highest elective office in any county. In some states, a coroner is the only official who can arrest a lawbreaking sheriff. This may sound like arcane history, but in the minds of many sheriffs, it is neither academic nor remote. Unlike local police, who are typically hired by city and town governments chartered by the state, sheriffs derive their power directly from the state constitution.
Sheriffs may depend on county government for funding—though many have their own revenue streams, such as fees for gun permitting—but they answer only to voters. In practice, though, voters have rarely asked their sheriffs to answer for very much. Casey LaFrance, an associate professor at Western Illinois University and a former deputy sheriff, told me that many sheriffs serve three or four terms.
Since , three generations of the same family have served as sheriff of Pickaway County, Ohio, save one four-year gap.
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But the job has changed dramatically. Urban sheriffs typically leave policing the streets to city departments, and instead handle issues such as gun permits, evictions, and especially jails. The Mecklenburg County detention center can house nearly 3, people. Extensive attention has been paid to prisons in recent years, but many more Americans pass through jails on an annual basis—some 10 million in alone. Many people spend weeks, months, or even years in pretrial detention without ever being convicted, simply because they cannot pay a bond.
That has produced a growing backlash against the cash-bail system. Jails are also on the front lines of dealing with people with mental illnesses and drug addictions. Read: The new local frontier of criminal-justice reform. Several of the new sheriffs are focused on jail conditions, and would prefer to talk about that than immigration. Birkhead has launched a review of how his jail functions, after nine deaths under his predecessor.
Miller has created real-time dashboards to share information with the public about the jail population and, recognizing the number of addicted and mentally ill people who pass through the jail, is designing a medically assisted therapy program to treat them inside and find them support systems when they leave. Mecklenburg-detention-center visits had been limited to video, but McFadden restored in-person visitation and is redecorating a room in nursery style for children to make in-contact visits with incarcerated parents. He launched a detention-center job fair to help residents find employment after their release.
McFadden told me he tries to visit the detention center every day. But because of its political salience, the fight over immigration has tended to eclipse these efforts. Big-city sheriffs wield great power over the enforcement of immigration laws because of their jails. Sheriffs lean right overall, but especially on immigration. Sheriffs say federal officials strongly influence their attitude toward immigration enforcement, while local police chiefs express more concern about maintaining good relations with the immigrant communities they police. Dan Thompson, a graduate student at Stanford, has found that Democratic sheriffs cooperate with ICE at almost the same rate as Republican sheriffs.
Cooperation takes a few forms. Because ICE has limited staffing to check jails, g allows it to catch people who might otherwise slip through its grasp. For most of American history, immigration enforcement was a largely federal matter. Local governments were neither empowered nor eager to enforce federal laws. That began to change in the mids, amid public backlash against illegal immigration. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, including ICE, and federal, state, and local agencies began working together more closely.
Meanwhile, public anger over illegal immigration continued to grow. In and , a strict immigration bill died in the Senate, but not before inspiring some of the largest protests in American history. The marches were a crystallizing moment for Latino political power, but they also drew a major backlash among white voters, Helen Marrow, a sociologist at Tufts, told me—especially in nontraditional immigrant destinations, such as smaller cities whose numbers of immigrants were small, but growing quickly.
In Charlotte, then- Sheriff Jim Pendergraph realized g could be a powerful tool against immigrants here illegally. While the program had mostly focused on violent criminals, Pendergraph directed deputies to screen for civil violations of immigration law, which fed more immigrants into the deportation system. Baltimore police officer turns to rap to combat crime. Policeman ensures 9-year-old has happy birthday.
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