Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 52/J. Serwood Upchurch

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John Sherwood Upchurch[edit | edit source]

John Sherwood Upchurch ( September 28, 1870 – June 17, 1950)[1] [1] was an American legislature from North Carolina who served two terms in the North Carolina General Assembly from 1929-1933. He began his political career by serving 14 terms on the Raleigh Board of Aldermen, several years as a city sanitary health officer and several terms as a city auditor.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Upchurch was born in Raleigh, North Carolina to Alvin Upchurch and Mary Ann Overby.[1] When we was five, his mother died and his father died a few years layer, leaving Upchurch orphaned. Now homeless, he began living in the basement of a Raleigh post office, sleeping on a pile of newspapers. He attended school until he was 11 when he was forced to begin working to survive. He started working as an apprentice in a machine shop, making barely enough money to survive off, before accepting a better job working for the Raleigh newspaper, The Chronicle, working in the mail room and as a paper boy. With his better salary he was able to afford an apartment and give up his home in the post office. Upchurch stayed with The Chronicle until the Buffalo Bill Wild West Circus, which he got a job with as an advertiser, traveling with the circus and posting advertisements.

Career[edit | edit source]

As an adult, Sherwood found himself as director of the Academy of Music in Raleigh. He worked to bring Broadway productions to perform in Raleigh, and brought many famous musicians, actors, and singers at the time to Raleigh. Sherwood did not hold back on expenses, ensuring he brought original casts of Broadway productions all the way from New York. Upchurch called Raleigh "one of the best show towns in the United States" thanks to his efforts. Later, using his experience as with the circus, Upchurch started an advertisement company, gaining exclusive rights to Bill Posting in Raleigh. He later sold his company. He is best known, however, for his political career in both city and state government.

Political Career[edit | edit source]

Upchurch's interest in politics began around the age of 18, and led him into a long and successful political career. He served 14 years on the Raleigh City Board of Aldermen, effectively the city council, many years as a City Sanitary and Health Officer, and several terms as an Auditor for the city. On the Board of Aldermen, Upchurch attempted to liberalize the city and prevent "puritanical reforms" such as prohibition or Blue Laws, preventing many activities on Sunday. In 1925, Upchurch launched his first campaign for State Legislator, running on a strong anti-evolution campaign. He lost in 1925, but was elected to two terms as a State Representative in 1929 and 1931.

Personal Life[edit | edit source]

In 1902, Sherwood Married his wife Mary Hardy, with whom he had two daughters. Throughout his life, he was very invested in sports, the arts, and the circus. He served as the referee for many college basketball games in Raleigh, and umpired professional baseball throughout North Carolina. He also refereed boxing and wrestling matches in the area, and became personal friends with several famous boxers. Upchurch also started his own Minstrel show, the Haywood Brothers Minstrel Band, made up of African Americans from Raleigh. It toured around the South and became fairly well known. Upchurch also was heavily involved with the circus, saying in 1939, "there never has been a year during the past forty or fifty years that I was not associated in some way with a circus". In 1938, Raleigh Newspaper The News and Observer printed an editorial about Upchurch praising him and his contributions to the city of Raleigh. He has been called "one of the best known citizens of Raleigh"

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Orphans during Reconstruction[edit | edit source]

After the Civil War, many children were left without parents. In the United States, "it was estimated that 1590 children a month were simply abandoned"[2]. Under this crisis, for the first time in US history serious efforts were made to help orphaned children. The Freedmen's Bureau, a government agency designed to oversee Reconstruction in the South, set up orphanages around the south, primarily for African American children. Beyond that, however orphanages and efforts to help orphans were mainly aimed at the children of Confederate soldiers who would primarily have been white. Other programs, which were carried out at the state level, apprenticed orphaned children -mainly black- to white families in exchange for food, clothing, and shelter. These programs, however, were clearly meant to favor the caretaker and not the children, leading to a form of indentured servitude.[3] The exploitation of orphans was also common in the East. Started by Charles Loring Brace, a movement known as "orphan trains" sought to ship orphans in the East to families in the midwest and West. An estimated 4,000 orphans were sent each year where they were commonly exploited for labor.[2]

Social Mobility in the Gilded Age[edit | edit source]

During the Gilded Age in America, the period of rapid industrialization and social change from 1850-1900, expanding opportunities allowed many people to more easily move up in social class. This was made primarily possible by the expansion of the frontier and the development of new industrial occupations. Previously, it had been very difficult for people to escape their social class without the right connections.During this period, however, around 60 percent of men, mostly white and of Northern European ancestry, were able to become more wealthy than their fathers had been.[4] This was not true for African Americans who, while having access to slightly more independence and opportunities, were still mostly unable to widely advance socially.[5]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F8HQ-355
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Child Welfare". Social Welfare History Project. 2011-01-19. Retrieved 2020-10-07.
  3. Franklin, John Hope (1970). "Public Welfare in the South during the Reconstruction Era, 1865-80". Social Service Review 44 (4): 379–392. ISSN 0037-7961. https://www.jstor.org/stable/30021737. 
  4. Journal, Kirstin Downey, National (2012-09-25). "In World History, Upward Mobility Has Rarely Happened". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2020-10-07.
  5. Rodrigue, Richard V. Reeves and Edward (2017-08-23). "The century gap: Low economic mobility for black men, 150 years after the Civil War". Brookings. Retrieved 2020-10-07.