After serving North Carolina for many years, Carl T. Durham’s memory is now set officially on a marker.
On Thursday, Oct. 8, a new highway marker was revealed honoring Carl Durham at the corner of U.S. 54 and Carl Durham Road.
Durham, who served in congress from 1939 to 1961, made lasting impressions in the pharmaceutical industry and to the safe use of atomic energy, among many other notable accomplishments.
The last remaining children of Carl Durham, Anne Novak and Peggy Wall, attended as well as the other Durham relatives, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
“He was in congress for 22 years, he was representative for Durham, Orange, Alamance and Guilford counties, which was the old 12th district,” said Anne Novak. “He was third ranking member of the armed services committee, he was the ranking member on the atomic energy committee. Did a lot of work for the atomic energy in the US and worked over atomic subs.
“He was a funny little man. He was a hoot, he really was. But he just did a lot. I’m proud of him.”
Wall remembered her father fondly as well.
“Well, he’s just daddy,” Peggy Wall, of Greenville, SC. “Well you know really, that’s all I’d ever thought of him: he was just daddy. But he was a wonderful man, he was tall, he was handsome. I thought he was a very handsome man.”
A host of public officials also joined the Durham family at Thursday’s unveiling.
Orange County commissioner Earl McKee spoke on Durham’s character. McKee said that Durham’s life and example teaches a very good lesson to our current political figures who lack his kind of character.
Cultural Resources Coordinator, Peter Sandbeck, said Durham was “a guy who could see into the future.” He saw the risk of atomic energy and fought to keep it from becoming a war weapon.
Michael Hill, head of the N.C. Office of Archives and History Research Branch which administers the Highway Marker Program, also spoke on how the State determines who will be honored by a marker.
Other officials in attendance were U.S. Representative Graig Meyer, historian and county commissioner Barry Jacob and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood.
Carl Durham was born the oldest of nine children in 1892 and grew up on farm that was founded by Matthew Durham in 1720. The city of Durham, NC, was actually named after John Bartlett Durham, who was also a descendent of Matthew Durham.
Durham began his professional career as a pharmacist at Eubanks Drug Store, making $20 a month, after serving as a pharmacist’s mate in the navy hospital corps for a year.
In 1924, Durham began his political career after being elected as an Orange County commissioner to the Chapel Hill City Council and also as a school board member. Durham served in local government for 14 years and supplemented his job as a pharmacist by also waiting on tables at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill.
In 1938, Durham was elected to the 76th U.S. Congress. Known for being a quiet and humble person, he made very few political speeches and never campaigned simply because his reputation was so revered in the community.
Durham was perhaps most known for serving as a charter member and eventually as chairman of the joint committee on atomic energy. In addition, Durham also served as a U.S. representative on the international atomic energy agency and as a delegate to the 1954 atoms of peace conference in Geneva.
Perhaps Durham’s major contribution to the pharmaceutical industry still stands as a regulation today.
In 1951, Durham joined forces with Senator Hubert Humphrey, a fellow pharmacist, to introduce a series of amendments to the 1938 Food, Drugs, and Cosmetic Act to establish two official classifications of drugs – over the counter and prescription. Before this amendment, manufacturers of drugs could determine whether their products could be sold with or without medical supervision. This lack of standardization exposed consumers to potential great risk as individuals purchased and self-administered drugs.
In partnering with Sen. Brien McHahon, Durham helped negotiate terms that led to the passage of the 1946 Atomic Energy Act which relinquished control of the Atomic Energy Commission from the army to civilian sector.
He also predicted that the use of isotopes would eventually become the standard in medical laboratories for diagnosing and monitoring cancerous activity in people.