THE UNREMARKABLE CHAIR rests in the corner, low-slung with wooden arms and a dominant faux leather cushion. It is just a little too low to the ground, and the back of the chair sits just a little too straight, sporting unnecessarily wide armrests. It’s the type of chair that’s last to be chosen when any other sitting option presents itself.
This is the president’s chair, unassuming among the more prominent relics in the James B. Duke library archives at Johnson C. Smith University. Well, a replica of it, at least. The chair wouldn’t be a Charlotte historical artifact if it hadn’t disappeared years ago. All that remains of the original, lost to decades of campus furniture-shuffling, is this copy, a graceless symbol of a time when Charlotte received the national spotlight it pursued as an up-and-coming city in the new South.
In May 1909, during his first year in office, President William Howard Ta” visited Charlotte to take part in the city’s annual celebration of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. This celebration was for years Charlotte’s largest social event and, at the time, meant more to Charlotteans than the Fourth of July. In 1909, the president’s visit enhanced the excitement.
Taft was an impressive man who, in addition to serving as the 27th president, later became the 10th Supreme Court chief justice. He was also extremely, unavoidably, bombastically large. He stood just under six fee