B. D. Schwartz Scrapbooks
Scope and Contents
This collection contains twenty scrapbook albums documenting the life and career of Benjamin David (B.D.) Schwartz, his wife Sylvia, and their family beginning in 1918 and ending in 1993. Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, moved to Wilmington as young child. He attended local schools, worked at his father’s furniture business, and assisted his family in establishing the B’nai Israel Synagogue. After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill, he returned to the port city and continued working with his father before eventually starting his own furniture business. He married Sylvia Wolk in 1931 and the couple had two children.
As Schwartz prospered in business, he became increasingly involved in the community through organizations such as the Wilmington Merchants Association and the Chamber of Commerce. In 1969, he filed as a candidate for Wilmington City Council and was successfully elected. In this role, he served as mayor pro tem and later as mayor of Wilmington. Schwartz then successfully ran as a candidate for the 12th district of the North Carolina House of Representatives, serving three terms, and later as a candidate for the 4th district of the North Carolina senate, serving one term.
Materials contained within these scrapbooks document cultural, economic, and political life in Wilmington over the course of 75 years. They provide a view of life in the port city during important eras in American history including the Great Depression, World War II, and the civil rights movement. Notably, these scrapbooks include documents pertaining to a period of significant racial discord and violence in Wilmington during the late 1960s and early 1970s. They also shed light on all aspects of government at both local and state levels and illustrate the network and influence of politicians particularly in eastern North Carolina. Finally, they provide a glimpse into the experience of a Jewish family living in the South and the Zionist movement during the 20th century.
- Creation: 1918-1993
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research use.
Copyright retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Background and educationBenjamin David Schwartz was born Berek Schwartzblatt on January 17, 1909 in Charask, Poland to Annie Cyrulnick and Louis Schwartzblatt. When Louis Schwartzblatt immigrated to the United States in 1909, the family name was shortened to Schwartz. Louis first arrived in New York and stayed with his brother Joseph while in search of work. A year later, he attempted to move to Winston, North Carolina, but after a misunderstanding with the ticketing agent, he traveled to Wilmington instead. Louis worked as a peddler for a time before making a connection with local furniture store owner, William Cole. With Cole’s support, he was eventually able to open his own store, Brooklyn Furniture Company, at 810 North Fourth Street. The store was later renamed the L. Schwartz Furniture Company. By 1913, Louis had saved enough money to bring his wife and son to Wilmington. The Schwartz family had three additional sons – Nathan, William (Bill), and Joseph.
B.D. Schwartz attended elementary school at Cornelius Harnett School and middle school at Hemenway School. He was a member of the first freshman class at New Hanover High School, graduating in 1925 at the age of 16. Schwartz then attended college at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he joined the Tau Epsilon Phi Jewish fraternity and graduated in 1929 with a degree in commerce. It is through his membership in the fraternity that the nickname, B.D. first originated. Following graduation, Schwartz returned to Wilmington and worked in his father’s furniture store. In 1930, Louis Schwartz purchased C.R. Swinson Furniture Company for B.D., which he renamed Home Furniture Company. Schwartz continued to run the furniture store for 39 years. As his career developed, he began to take on leadership roles such as organizing other furniture merchants to form the Wilmington Furniture Retail Association and serving on the Board of the State Furniture Association. Schwartz also became involved with the Wilmington Kiwanis Club and the Chamber of Commerce during this time.
In 1929, Schwartz met Sylvia Wolk at a party in Wrightsville Beach and the couple were married in 1931. Sylvia was the youngest child of Max and Lena Wolk, who were also immigrants from Russia and Poland respectively. She had two siblings – Harry and Hilda – with whom she remained close all her life. She attended the Institute for Hebrew Teachers in Clevland, Ohio and was fluent in Hebrew as a “living language.” Sylvia also studied French at various colleges before graduating from UNC Chapel Hill. The Schwartzs had two children, Melvin in 1933 and Maxine in 1935.
Civic engagementBy the 1950s, Schwartz was long established as a well-known and successful businessman in Wilmington. With their children in college, B.D. and Sylvia became increasingly involved in all aspects of the Wilmington community.
Schwartz’s service included the following: Board of Directors member and Treasurer of the Wilmington Community Chest, forerunner of the United Way; original founder and Vice-President of the Wilmington Merchants Downtown Parking Corporation; appointed member of the City Limits Extension Committee; Executive Committee member of the Industrial Committee of 100; President of the Wilmington Merchant’s Association; Member of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Merchants Association; Director of the Peoples Savings & Loan Association; varying officer and Board of Director roles with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce; member of the Wilmington Parking Commission; Chair of the Outdoors Fort Fisher Advisory Committee.
Similarly, Sylvia also became involved in civic activities in the area. Her service included the following: volunteer and varying officer roles in the Family Service Society; member of the New Hanover County Mental Health Commission; volunteer and officer at St. John’s Museum of Art; member and varying directorial roles in the Sir Walter Cabinet.
Wilmington College and the University of North Carolina WilmingtonB.D. Schwartz’s long affiliation with Wilmington College and UNC Wilmington began with his appointment to the college’s first Board of Trustees in 1958. He served on the board for eleven years, during which time he was instrumental in locating a new site for the growing college and in determining Georgian architectural design of campus buildings. Schwartz was also involved in the founding of the school’s fund-raising organization, Wilmington College Foundation, and served on the original Board of Directors. When the college came under the State’s community college system, he was re-appointed to the Board of Trustees by Governor Terry Sanford. He was also instrumental in the consolidation of the college into the UNC system. When the college became the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the entire Board of Trustees was required to step down. Following his time as a legislator, Schwartz was later appointed the Board of Trustees in 1981 and served for two four-year terms. In 1989, the University named a dormitory in honor of him – Schwartz Hall.
Jewish faith and Zionist advocacyFor both B.D. and Sylvia Schwartz, their Jewish faith was always a central focus in their lives and the couple was devoted to advocating on behalf of Jewish causes. Schwartz’s father, Louis was heavily involved in founding B’nai Israel Synagogue in Wilmington and served as its first president. The Schwartz family attended the synagogue for the entirety of their lives in Wilmington.
For B.D., service to his faith included the following roles: regional vice chairman for the Jewish National Fund; member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish social group, Covenant Club; finance chairman and advance gift chairman for the B’Nai Israel Synagogue new facility fund-raising campaign; Board of Directors member of the Men’s Division of the North Carolina Associations of Jewish Women, Men, Rabbis, and Youth; Vice President of the National Association of Jewish Legislators.
For Sylvia, service to her faith included the following roles: President of the Wilmington chapter of Hadassah; Regional Vice President of Hadassah (for the Washington DC, Baltimore, and south Atlantic to South Carolina area); leader of fund-raising efforts for the United Jewish Appeal; President of the North Carolina Association of Jewish Women; administrator in conjunction with her sister of the Dr. Harry E. Wolk scholarships for students attending Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Technion University in Israel.
Additionally, the couple was asked by Governor Jim Holshouser to represent the State of North Carolina at festivities marking the 25th anniversary of Israel as a state. They also visited the country again in 1978 with the National Association of Jewish Legislators, a group in which Schwartz later served as vice president.
PoliticsThe Schwartzs’ first foray in local politics began in the mid-1960s with Sylvia’s appointment to the judicial committee for the New Hanover County Democratic Party and her service as co-chairmen of the 7th District woman’s division for L. Richardson Preyer’s gubernational campaign. B.D. and Sylvia later worked to support democratic candidates including John Burney Jr. for State Senate, Howard Penton and Luther Cromartie for State House of Representatives, Robert Scott for Governor, and Robert Morgan for Attorney General.
Shortly after Schwartz’s 60th birthday in 1969, he sold Home Furniture Company to his brother, Bill, and filed as a candidate for one of three open Wilmington City Council seats. He easily won the election, receiving the most votes of any candidate. Additionally, at that time the positions of mayor and mayor pro tem were filled by council by balloting among themselves, and Schwartz was elected mayor pro tem. During his first term on City Council, Wilmington began to experience significant racial discord and violence, particularly among students, following the closing of the historically Black Williston High School in order to spurn integration. Tensions between blacks and whites in the city peaked in early 1971 during a string of violent acts which resulted in the killing of two individuals and the firebombing of multiple businesses including the L. Schwartz Furniture Store.
Schwartz was elected Mayor of Wilmington in summer of 1971 after a series of secret deadlock council balloting. Immediately after assuming the position, he moved to revise the city charter in order to allow for the position of mayor to be elected at large by citizens. Racial tensions and acts of violence persisted in the city throughout the year and Schwartz was forced to contend with demands of both black and white activist groups. He also fielded direct threats to his own life and that of his family. Towards the end of 1971, Schwartz reorganized the Good Neighbor Council into the Human Relations Commission and appointed representatives from numerous groups and organizations to serve. Two other major accomplishments during Schwartz’s term as mayor included the paving of streets in Black neighborhoods and initiating a conversation with the Governor’s office to expand Interstate 40 to Wilmington.
In February 1972, Schwartz filed as a candidate for the 12th District of the North Carolina State House of Representatives for a term beginning in January 1973. Once again, he easily won the election, receiving the most votes of the four candidates for that position. As a State House Representative, he was involved in major legislative issues including liquor-by-the-drink, the Equal Rights Amendment, the establishment of public kindergarten, clarification of in and out-of-state tuition for students in the UNC System, the Coastal Area Management Act, and no-fault insurance. He also was instrumental in introducing legislation pertaining to local issues such as the purchase of Masonboro Island by the state, the provision of voluntary annexation by the City of Wilmington, various bills associated with the Port of Wilmington, and appropriations for numerous projects in New Hanover County. Schwartz was appointed to numerous committees throughout his tenure in the House including the prestigious Advisory Budget Committee and Base Budget Committee. Additionally, his appointment to the Appropriations I committee marked the beginning of a long career of advocacy work for children and adults with special needs, including service on the North Carolina Commission on Children with Special Needs, the Joint Legislative Commission on Exceptional Children, and the Council on Educational Services for Exceptional Children.
In 1978, Schwartz announced that he would run as a candidate for the North Carolina 4th Senate District. Following a contentious primary election against Joe C. Fox, Schwartz easily defeated his general election opponent, Janet Morgan. Though technically a freshman senator, he received several powerful committee appointments including the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee on Human Resources and Corrections and vice chairmanship of the Committee on the Economy. He was also later appointed to the Legislative Research Commission’s Study Committee on State Revenue Sharing and the Mental Health Study Commission. Schwartz chose not to run for re-election after his wife, Sylvia, suffered a stroke while the couple was on vacation.
Life after politicsThe Schwartzs continued to live in Wilmington and serve the community for years after B.D.’s time in office. In addition to traveling and spending time with family, they were heavily involved in affairs at UNC Wilmington. Schwartz also served as chair of the Outdoors Fort Fisher Advisory Committee and was instrumental in obtaining funds to build modern facilities at the park.
Sylvia Wolk Schwartz died on August 7, 1997 at the age of 86. Benjamin David Schwartz died July 11, 2001 at the age of 92. The couple is buried in the cemetery at B’nai Israel Hebrew Cemetery.
4.58 Linear Feet (Contains 21 boxes.)
Language of Materials
This collection is arranged in the general chronological order based on the arrangement of the scrapbooks as donated by the Schwartz family. However, the date range from page to page is not sequential.
This collection was donated by B.D. Schwartz on January 29, 1999.
Metadata for this collection was created by Kensi Laube and Rebecca Baugnon in 2022. This collection was digitized by Sarah Sawyer and Allie Humphrey.
- Fort Fisher State Recreation Area (N.C.)
- Israel -- Politics and government -- 1951-
- Masonboro Island (N.C.)
- Montford Point Camp (Camp Lejeune, N.C.)
- North Carolina -- Politics and government -- 1951-
- Wilmington (N.C.) -- Race relations
- Advertising, political -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- African Americans -- Political activity -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Alcohol -- Law and legislation -- North Carolina
- Annexation (Municipal government) -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Children with disabilities -- Law and legislation -- North Carolina
- City planning -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Civil service -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Clubs -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Discrimination in municipal services -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Economic development -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Elections -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Environmentalism -- North Carolina
- Festivals -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Jews -- History -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Legislators -- North Carolina
- Local government -- North Carolina -- New Hanover County -- Evaluation
- Low-income housing -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Mayors -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Ordinances, Municipal -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Political campaigns -- North Carolina
- Political campaigns -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- Riots -- North Carolina -- Wilmington -- History
- School integration -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- White supremacy movements -- North Carolina -- New Hanover County
- Wilmington College -- History -- Sources
- Women's rights -- North Carolina
- World War, 1939-1945 -- History -- Sources
- Zoning -- North Carolina -- Wilmington
- B.D. Schwartz Scrapbooks
- Kensi Laube
- Spring 2022
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- 2016-05-09: This finding aid has been revised for coversion to ArchivesSpace on May 9, 2016.
- 2019 July: This finding aid was revised for completion by Nicole Yatsonsky.
- 2022 February : This finding aid has been revised to reflect updates made to the container list by Kensi Laube.