Published: Apr 16, 2008 01:27 PM
Modified: Apr 16, 2008 01:27 PM
Who was the greatest teacher of North Carolina history?
You could get lots of different answers to that question. Included, of course, would be professor William Powell, whose recent Encyclopedia of North Carolina is the capstone of a long career of preserving and sharing our state's history with students at every level of education. And there is a long list of others, too long to set out here, of men and women who have taught us about where we live.
But I would argue that the person who has had the greatest impact on our appreciation and a popular understanding of North Carolina history was not a historian at all.
He was a playwright. Have you guessed the person I am talking about?
A few months ago, he was honored with a historical marker near Chapel Hill:PAUL GREEN
Playwright, teacher & humanitarian. Awarded Pulitzer Prize, 1927. His 16 outdoor dramas include The Lost Colony (1937). Lived 1 mile E.
"The Lost Colony" tells the story of the first English colony in America and of our land's first contact with European settlers. This outdoor drama has been produced every year in Manteo since its opening in 1937 -- except during the years of World War II. For all these years, it has been a living billboard, constantly flashing the failed colony's story -- and not just to the playgoers but to everybody who lives in North Carolina.
As a result, this saga has become a linchpin, a shared starting point for discussing and learning more about our history. Because none of the Lost Colonists survived, none of us has a direct family connection to them. Thus, whenever and wherefrom we or our ancestors came here, we all have an equal claim to the Lost Colony story. Thanks to Green and the persistence of those who put on the drama each summer, that story has become North Carolina's "coming out of Egypt" story, a defining narrative that brings us together and gives us an anchor as we try to understand who we are, distinct from non-North Carolinians.
Green was active in many other areas of North Carolina life. For instance, he was an active supporter of the efforts, beginning in the 1930s, to resurrect and strengthen the North Carolina Symphony. A neighbor of the Green family, Benjamin Swalin, became director of the symphony. Swalin, together with his wife, Maxine, pumped life into the symphony. They traveled to all of the state's 100 counties to solicit support and take symphonic performances to communities and schools that had never before hosted an orchestra.
Paul Green, his wife, Elizabeth, and their children enjoyed musical evenings with the Swalins, listening and playing music together.
Paul and Elizabeth Green and Benjamin Swalin have died. But Maxine Swalin is very much alive, active and alert as she prepares to celebrate her 105th birthday in a few weeks.
Continuing her family's connection with Maxine, Paul Green's daughter, Betsy Green Moyer organized a Friends of Maxine Swalin Committee to ensure that the 105th birthday will be properly celebrated. Appropriately, the committee has planned a concert in tribute to Maxine. Even more appropriate will be the performances of two of Paul Green's grandchildren, Nancy Green and Frederick Moyer. They will perform works for cello and piano by Rachmaninoff and Franck. These are among Maxine's favorites.
This concert will take place on April 27 at 2 p.m. in Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note this: Admission to the concert is free.
In accordance with Maxine Swalin's wishes, there will be an opportunity to make a donation to support the art's common project at Carolina, but it will be voluntary.
So if you love history or drama and want to celebrate the family of Paul Green, or if you love music and want to celebrate the contributions of Benjamin and Maxine Swalin and her 105 years, or if you simply want to enjoy the blooming beauty of the Carolina campus on a spring day, come to Chapel Hill next Sunday and be a part of history.