As a kid, James Taylor would play with his dog in Chapel Hill’s Morgan Creek, the inspiration for the song “Copperline.”
His mother, he told a group of campaign workers Sunday, would walk the picket lines at Chapel Hill’s black movie theater.
“This was a segregated community in 1959,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said at Democratic headquarters on East Main Street, across from the ArtsCenter and Cat’s Cradle music club.
“My mother walked the picket lines right across the street at the all-black movie theater,” he said, gesturing outside the window. “You couldn’t go to the Carolina or Varsity (theaters) if you were black.”
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It was a different time, but also an exciting time, the longtime Democratic candidate supporter said. Four years ago, Taylor sang his signature “Carolina in My Mind” to Obama campaign workers in a parking lot off Franklin Street.
There was no guitar this time, just the tall, lanky musician speaking from his heart, at one point, words catching in his throat.
His father was born in Morganton, N.C., and attended UNC in the late 1930s, later becoming dean of the medical school.
“He was part of the progressive miracle, really, that happened around the commitment to education in North Carolina,” Taylor said.
“The benefits of that, with the Research Triangle, with the university system in North Carolina ... I felt as though I was part of a new chapter in North Carolina. It was an exciting time to be part of North Carolina and a movement towards the future.”
The last four years, however, have reversed much of what North Carolina once stood for, Taylor said.
“It’s been hard to watch what’s happened under this present administration over the past four years in North Carolina,” he said. “It’s time to get back on the right track. It’s time to take our state back and to re-engage our future. To become part of the right direction again.
Taylor paused briefly, his voice slightly breaking.
“I get a little bit emotional, but I love it here,” he said softly. “And I’m so grateful to all of you for doing what you’ve done ... and thanks more than I can say to Roy Cooper for leading us.”
Taylor did not mention Gov. Pat McCrory or specific issues, leaving that to Cooper.
In brief remarks, the attorney general criticized the state’s support for teachers, refusal to expand Medicaid and House Bill 2, which he called a “horrible” bill that “wrote discrimination into the law.” The last brought the loudest cheers from the mostly college-age audience.
“We want leaders who truly believe in public education and who don’t just talk about it,” Cooper said.
He told the group how he recently had talked with a teacher who said she felt disrespected and unappreciated by the state’s leaders.
Cooper said he told her about his third grade teacher, who “hugged me the day my grandmother died, and made a difference in my life, as so many of my public school teachers did.”
“I told her you need to keep on teaching in North Carolina,” he said. “You need to keep on working because hold on, I’m coming.”
Schultz: 919-829-8950; @chapelhillnews1
James Taylor and Chapel Hill
Born in Boston in 1948, James Taylor came to Chapel Hill with his family when he was 3 years old. He began writing music in the mid-1960s while a student at a New England boarding school. He eventually graduated from Chapel Hill High School. Isaac Taylor, his father, was a dean of the UNC medical school.
Source: Chapel Hill Museum
Teacher pay in North Carolina
Republican Gov. McCrory has said North Carolina teachers have done well under GOP leadership, especially lately.
“We’ve given the largest teacher pay raise in the United States of America,” he said.
That’s true, at least in terms of percentages. Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, according to the National Education Association, North Carolina teachers’ average salaries rose by 6.3 percent – which was more than any other state.
Even with that raise, North Carolina is still one of the lowest-paying states for teachers. The average North Carolina teacher made $47,819 in 2014-15, compared with a national average of $59,452.
Democratic Attorney General Cooper said that when he was in the legislature – including as Senate majority leader – he worked with Gov. Jim Hunt to bring North Carolina’s average teacher pay higher than the national average.
In fact, North Carolina was among the top 25 highest-paying states for teachers toward the end of Hunt and Cooper’s time writing budgets in the late 1990s. But because the top states pay very well, North Carolina never actually beat the national average.
The state came close to the national average in the 1999-2000 school year, when the average North Carolina teacher made $39,404 and the average U.S. teacher made $41,807.
Staff writer Will Doran