Martin: The Charlotte Hornets — and an enemy general everywhere
What enemy general who fought in North Carolina is most memorialized here?
Here is a hint. The Charlotte pro basketball team is taking back the Hornets name.
One reason they are taking back that name is because the old Charlotte Hornets sports gear is still selling all over the world. It is in fact one of the most popular NBA brands long after original owner George Shinn moved the team to New Orleans.
Why has this defunct brand been so popular? At the beginning, the Charlotte Hornets had an appealing story. It was North Carolina’s first major-league sports team, with amazing attendance and plucky teams that played above their potential. But that was in the past. Folks in Chapel Hill argue that their own Alexander Julian’s colors and design of the uniforms is the secret of their continuing popularity.
I like to think that the Hornet name itself had a lot to do with it, in part, because it was an insect. Such little creatures, even those with big stingers, are rarely used for athletic teams, although some college teams like the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have big fan followings. But Charlotte was the first modern major-league pro team with a stinging insect mascot, and it set the team apart.
History probably played the most important role in the attachment the local community holds to the Hornets name.
Here is where the hint about the foreign general comes in. During the American Revolution, British troops occupied the village of Charlotte for a short time. The patriot militia and general population harassed the occupiers so effectively that the British commander tagged Charlotte and the surrounding area "a damned hornet's nest of rebellion."
Ever since, Mecklenburg people have been proud to be called hornets and have their county identified as a hornets’ nest. Check the seals, flags, and symbols of Charlotte and Mecklenburg and you will usually find a hornets’ nest somewhere in the design. Miss Leticia Currie, our wonderful teacher at Davidson Junior High, loved local history. Every day she read a chapter of a favorite book. If a student brought a real hornets’ nest to school, she read an extra chapter that day after she proudly displayed the nest on the classroom wall and gave us a short lecture on our proud heritage.
The British commander who came up with “damned hornet's nest of rebellion” designation was Lord Cornwallis, who is my nominee for most memorialized enemy general.
In 1780, after occupying Charlotte and Hillsborough, he fought a critical battle at Guilford Court House, and then marched to Wilmington to lick his wounds and prepare for the march to Yorktown, where he surrendered in 1781.
Cornwallis traveled across more of North Carolina than many of us who have lived in the state for years.
Up in Hillsborough, they remember Cornwallis’s brief occupation in their town’s histories, and there is a residential community named “Cornwallis Hills.”
There is Cornwallis Avenue in Gastonia; Cornwallis Streets in Garner, Pittsboro, and Winston Salem; Cornwallis Roads in Riegelwood and Rose Hill; Cornwallis Lane in Charlotte; Cornwallis Drives in Mocksville and Greensboro; and of course, the long Cornwallis Road that runs from just north of Chapel Hill, across Durham and then through the Research Triangle Park. Surely some of the thousands of commuters who see his name every day wonder why we so prominently honor a general whose invasion caused North Carolinians such great suffering.
Perhaps it is to remember the strong resistance that General Cornwallis encountered from patriotic North Carolinians across our state.
Or maybe it’s just in gratitude for giving us that Hornets nickname, one that after 225 years, is still worth fighting for.
D.G. Martin hosts "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch
This week’s Sunday showing will be preempted by special programming. The June 6 guest is Heidi Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.”