D.G. Martin: Fixing HB2 requires the two sides to share a meal

Published 9:40 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Where are Ruby and Jack Hunt when we need them?

Somebody needs to sit our political leaders down and guide them into talking to each other about how to get our state out of the HB2 mess we have made for ourselves.

That is what former Cleveland County state Rep. Jack Hunt and his wife, Ruby, used to do in Raleigh. I admired their ability to get people of different views together at the same table for meals and fellowship.

Here is the way I described their magic meals in my new book, “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries.”

“Jack and Ruby regularly invited their government friends for informal suppers of country ham, baked chicken, cornbread, biscuits with sourwood honey and molasses, and vegetables from her garden, including corn frozen minutes after it was picked the previous summer. There were always desserts of homemade cakes and pies. Of course, there was also the opportunity to make friends with governors, Supreme Court justices and legislative leaders.

“Once, when UNC President Dick Spangler and Gov. Jim Hunt were at loggerheads about the governor’s budget proposals for the university, they could hardly speak to each other until Jack invited them to breakfast with Ruby. Neither the governor nor the university president could say no to Ruby. It only was after they sat down to Ruby’s cooking and warm spirit that they worked out a compromise.”

North Carolina has a history of people with hard-line different views coming together informally to hear each other out, and working something out of situations that had seemed intractable.

It happened in Charlotte during the school desegregation turmoil when people at war with each other sat down and ate wonderful food together at the black-owned McDonald’s Cafeteria or at potluck meals organized by teacher Maggie Ray.

People in Durham still celebrate the unlikely friendship that developed between Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis and black community leader Ann Atwater when they addressed community and school challenges in an informal setting. Ellis explained what happened this way, “I used to think that Ann Atwater was the meanest black woman I’d ever seen in my life. But, you know, her and I got together one day for an hour or two and talked. And she is trying to help her people like I’m trying to help my people.”

At last the governor and some legislators are proposing bills that attempt to craft workable solutions. But each proposal has met only with critical resistance from those on both sides who are unwilling to consider compromises.

Summarizing his longer commentary on possible solutions to the HB2 situation, Chapel Hill attorney Patrick Oglesby writes, “No middle ground will satisfy everyone. Folks on both sides — call them hardliners — sincerely yearn for victory based on principle and morality, and despise symbolic defeat. But a principled return to ‘pre-existing law and practice’ sows pardon where there is injury, and it relegates the non-problem of the wrong bathroom to old, tried and true trespassing law — and to the jury.

“We can ask our leaders to sit down together and assemble a package to make the fighting stop. As a Christian pastor put it: ‘We can live together as brothers or perish together as fools.’”

Oglesby’s quote about living together comes from Martin Luther King Jr. It calls out for good will and a willingness to put aside absolutism in order to find a good pragmatic, if imperfect, accommodation.

It reminds me of how the togetherness around Ruby and Jack’s table could foster a spirit of trust and willingness to compromise.

Where are they when we need them?

Note: Oglesby’s complete statement is at http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/state-local-politics/320667-how-can-north-carolina-close-the-door-on-its

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. Today’s guest is Tony Earley, author of “Mr. Tall.”