A Century to Celebrate
March 2010 President's Column
Patrick E. Kelly
In 2012, the Bar will celebrate its 100th anniversary. To commemorate this significant event, the Mecklenburg County Bar (MCB) is planning among other things, to publish a history of the Bar.
The Centennial celebration will provide our Bar a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to focus not only on the significance of the MCB to our region and our state, but to recognize the extraordinary contributions of so many of our lawyers through the years. In so doing, we honor the profession of law as a noble calling, and we remind all of the importance of the rule of law to ensuring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Long before the MCB was formally organized, there were lawyers in Mecklenburg County, individually and collectively, making significant contributions to our county, state and nation. The MCB archives are full of fascinating stories of courage, honor and selfless dedication to country. Consider Zebulon B. Vance, for whom Vance County and Vance High School are named. Vance was active in the Bar of Charlotte in 1869 when the Bar approved a minimum fee schedule for attorneys (oral advice, $5; written advice, $10; larceny defense, $20). Vance commanded Confederate forces during the Civil War, was twice elected governor of North Carolina, and later served as a United States Senator. Following the War, Vance agreed to represent Tom Dula pro bono. Dula was a Confederate soldier accused of murdering his fiancé. The trial garnered national attention and ultimately spawned the famous folk song, Tom Dooley.
The history of the MCB is replete with many other interesting and inspiring stories of our ancestors in the Bar. These include Waightstill Avery, the first lawyer to practice in Mecklenburg County, who in 1768 braved the dangerous wagon trail from New Jersey to Charlotte Town on horseback and maintained a journal of his exploits. Avery later became North Carolinas first Attorney General. There is William R. Davies, who commanded the militia confronting Cornwallis at the Mecklenburg County Court House during the Revolutionary War. Davies later helped found the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There is Charles Dulls, the first MCB President, who, with Harriet Clarkson, founded the law firm that is now Parker Poe; Cameron Morrison, Governor of North Carolina; John J. Parker, Chief Justice of the 4th Circuit and who was nominated by President Hoover for appointment to The US Supreme Court; Julius Chambers, who successfully tried and won important civil rights cases and later became General Counsel to the NAACP; and Chief Justices Sarah Parker and William Bobbitt of the Supreme Court of North Carolina and many others.
Recognizing the importance of capturing the rich history of the Mecklenburg County Barfor the benefit of our members, the citizens of this community, and, more importantly, for our posterity, MCB retained noted authors Marion Ellis and Howard Covington to collaborate on the preparation and publication of a comprehensive, coffee table quality book on the history of the Mecklenburg County Bar. The book project is the culmination of many previous well-intentioned but unsuccessful efforts by dedicated members of our Bar to capture the Bars history. Various draft manuscripts have been prepared but never completed or published. In 2007, MCB President Bob Stephens appointed Mark Bernstein and Ray Farris as Co-Chairs of the Bar History Committee and tasked the Committee with completing this worthy endeavor. Other participants on the Committee have included Ozzie Ayscue, Bob Johnston, Luther Moore, Deborah Nance, Jerry Parnell, Chase Saunders, Scott Broyles, and Claire Rauscher. The Committee recommended, and the MCB Board of Directors approved, the hiring of Ellis and Covington to complete the research, compilation and writing necessary for the publication.
The initial funding for the book project was fronted by the Bar and the Bar Foundation. This investment is expected to be repaid from the proceeds of the sale of the book and from contributions from law firms and individual members of the Bar. The fundraising goal has not yet been reached. I hope you will consider purchasing the book and, in addition, making a contribution to the project. I also urge you to contact Ray Farris, Mark Bernstein, or any member of the Bar History Committee if you have historical records, photographs, stories or other information which might be included in the publication. Each of us is part of the long tradition of the Mecklenburg County Bar, and each of us has an interest in this history being told. Thank you for your support of this exciting project and for your participation in the MCB Centennial celebrations!