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Home North Carolina Davie County City of Cooleemee Historical Markers Hugh T. Lefler 1901-1981

Hugh T. Lefler 1901-1981

NC-801 at Watts Street, Cooleemee, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 35° 48' 29.466", -80° 33' 19.5696"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Preeminent historian of North Carolina, author, & editor. Professor at UNC, 1935-1972. His birthplace is one mile east."
     Over the course of eight months in 1981, seven individuals who contributed significantly to North Carolina history and letters—memorialized as “stalwarts” by Sam Ragan—died: playwright Paul Green, novelist Guy Owen, editor Harry Golden, literary scholar Hugh C. Holman, poet James Larkin Pearson, editor Jonathan Daniels, and historian Hugh T. Lefler.

     Hugh Talmage Lefler, Kenan Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was known as “Mr. North Carolina History” by many across the state. Born in Davie County, he graduated from Trinity College in 1921 and received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1931. After six years at N.C. State College, he taught at Chapel Hill for 38 years.

     Professor Lefler is perhaps best known for the college textbook North Carolina: The History of a Southern State, co-authored with Albert Ray Newsome, which appeared in its first edition in 1954; the two also collaborated on a secondary school North Carolina history textbook. He edited North Carolina History Told by Contemporaries and the 1967 edition of John Lawson’s New Voyage to Carolina, and co-wrote Colonial North Carolina: A History.

     Lefler established his reputation, in part, as a debunker of myths, remaining skeptical about the “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence” and denying that the Battle of Alamance was associated with the patriotic sentiments of the American Revolution. He said, “The truth, that’s what I stand for and, in North Carolina, that will get you in trouble. There are certain things in the history of this state which people like to believe, but you just can’t prove.” Lefler identified six “constant problems” for historians: pride, prejudice, patriotism, provincialism, politics, and pressure groups.

     Professor Lefler is remembered for his trenchant wit, earthy humor, and storytelling. He taught in excess of 18,000 students over the course of his long career. He long was an advisor to the North Carolina Department of Archives and History, serving on numerous boards and commissions. He retired from teaching in 1972 and died on April 21, 1981.

Sam Ragan, “Remembering Stalwarts,” North Carolina Historical Review (Spring 1982): 139-146
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV, 47-48—sketch by William S. Powell
University of North Carolina Alumni Review (June 1981)
Hugh T. Lefler 1901-1981 Historical Marker Location Map, Cooleemee, North Carolina