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Isaac Erwin Avery, 1871-1904
Idle Comments
Charlotte, N.C.: Avery, 1905.


Isaac Avery (1 Dec. 1871-2 April 1904), newspaper publisher, Foreign Service officer, and social observer, was born at Swan Ponds, his family's home, located near Morganton, in Burke County, North Carolina. He was the son of Susan Morrison Avery and Aphonso C. Avery, an ex-Confederate officer and judge. Avery attended Trinity College—then in Randolph County before its later move to Durham and name-change to Duke University. After studying under his father, who was dean of law at Trinity, he was licensed as a lawyer in 1893, but pursued a newspaper career in Morganton. In 1894, Avery left North Carolina to become secretary to President Grover Cleveland's consul general in Shanghai, China, Thomas P. Jernigan of Raleigh, and within a year he became the vice consul. He remained in China for another three years and contributed occasionally to the North China Daily News.

Avery returned home to full-time newspaper work in 1898. He moved to the burgeoning city of Charlotte and served as the city editor of the Charlotte Observer until his death, becoming something of a gadfly, alternately condemning and commending the city's political, social, and cultural elite. At the Observer, Avery wrote a weekly column titled "A Variety of Idle Comments," in which he reported human-interest stories and spun humorous tales. These columns were posthumously collected and published in 1905 as Idle Comments. Avery died at age thirty-two.

Modern readers will find Idle Comments entertaining and full of descriptive details about Charlotte. Avery wanted North Carolina to leave its bumptious, rural past behind and embrace the fundamentals of modern (and northern) civilization: urbanization, commerce and industry, peaceful race relations, and refined culture. To Avery, Charlotte was well on its way to displaying these characteristics. At the same time, though, like many other progressive southerners, Avery held views that harkened back to plantation-era social hierarchies. Included in this collection are several articles under the heading "Negro Types," in which Avery demonstrates his paternalistic view of Charlotte's African American population. Avery also balked at the changing fashions and behavior of white women, especially young single women, and worried this this new generation was abandoning or altering older ideals of southern womanhood.

Works Consulted: Ashe, Samuel A., Stephen B. Weeks, Charles L. Van Noppen, eds., Biographical History of North Carolina From Colonial Times to the Present, vol vii, Greensboro, NC: C. L. Van Noppen, 1905-1917, pp. 29-34; Powell, William S., ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1979-1996; Rogers, Lou, "Isaac E. Avery," We the People of North Carolina, vol. v (August 1947), pp. 20-21.

Michael Sistrom

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