Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
According to Robert Shook, curator at the Macon County Historical Society, there are many interesting historical figures garnering attention in the museum on Main Street in Franklin; yet, Shook believes there is one “unsung hero” who deserves special recognition – especially since his efforts resulted in life-changing legislation, passed 64 years ago this month, to benefit law enforcement officers nationwide.
Carnaro Drayton Baird (known as C.D.) was born in 1910. He served as a police officer in the Town of Franklin from 1931 until 1971.
“He became the police chief in 1932 and he was the police department,” said C.D.’s youngest son and Macon County resident Jerry Baird, born in 1957. He explained how his father, who died in 1996, got the job.
“The mayor at the time was a merchant here in town and owned a tobacco warehouse; he was losing money. He hired my dad to watch the business overnight for two weeks. My father found out the mayor was losing money because of an inside job. Then the mayor suggested he become the police officer to replace the town’s police officer who [was not doing his job].”
C.D. agreed to take on the job – but only for six months. A badge, made in the 1800s and passed down to each man assigned to keep the law Franklin, was given to C.D. to wear. (That badge is now in a Macon County Historical Society display, along with a photo of C.D.)
“He kept that job for a lot longer than six months,” said Jerry, “resigning as Chief of Police in 1968 and eventually from the department in 1971. The only other law in the area was the county sheriff. My dad’s jurisdiction was the town.”
The only time C.D.’s service as Chief of Police was interrupted was during his service in the European campaign of the last few years of World War II. He served in Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army.
Baird is a long-standing name in Macon County. The family’s most famous member is Zebulon Baird Vance, a Confederate military officer in the Civil War, the 37th and 43rd governor of North Carolina, and a U.S. Senator. Baird Cove, just off West Main Street in Franklin, is named for the Scottish family, which settled in Western North Carolina. Jerry shared how all the land in Pack Square in downtown Asheville was donated by his ancestors; their only condition was that they put up as a centerpiece in the square an Egyptian granite obelisk monument in honor of Zebulon Baird Vance.
C.D. started off his career as a 20-something police officer by making his rounds and arrests from a motorcycle. He also eventually drove his own personal black car, upon which he had painted in white, “Town of Franklin Police,” on the side. At the time, the Town did not supply transportation for its only police officer.
“He was not a tall man, only 5 feet 7 inches,” said Jerry, “but he had a commanding presence and was strong. He would tell people ‘I will warn you once.’ There was no quarter with my father. But he was also fair. He had tremendous bone structure and large hands. His little finger was as big as my thumb. He never hit a man closed fist though.”
As he aged, C.D. told Jerry stories about his days as Chief of Police, “and I would sit there and enjoy every minute of it. I truly admired the man. And Franklin really liked and appreciated him. Franklin then was really like Mayberry and my father was like Andy Taylor.”
He remembers one distinct story about his father’s character.
“The Town passed an ordinance at one time banning spitting in the street because the men would gather in the town square and spit while they were chewing tobacco. Ladies complained about it. But they would still gather and spit amber on the sidewalk. Dad said, ‘I couldn’t arrest them if they spit on the sidewalk because the ordinance was specifically for spitting on the street.’ So Dad walked up to them one day and was watching them, talking to them, and grinning at them. He said, ‘I’m just watching that amber flow down the sidewalk and waiting for it to flow down onto the street. When it does, I will arrest every one of you.’ That dispersed them all.’”
Although C.D. was widely known in Franklin and even Western North Carolina, and his name frequently appeared in local newspapers due to various arrests and community involvement, it is for his work toward passage of a national bill that makes him memorable, pointed out Shook.
During a union dispute at which he had to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., he met Samuel James “Sam” Ervin Jr., who served as a U.S. Senator from North Carolina from 1954 to 1974. After their meeting, C.D. began regular correspondence with Sen. Ervin, with a goal of amending the Social Security Act to include benefits for law enforcement officers.
“At the time the Social Security Act came into being, my father was already the Chief of Police for the Town of Franklin,” said Jerry. “Police officers were excluded because it was a high-risk profession. My dad had been on the job about 20 years when he began corresponding with Sam Ervin.”
A letter from Ervin to C.D., dated July 15, 1955, and typed on United States Senate letterhead includes such famous historical figures’ names as John F. Kennedy, Hubert H. Humphrey, Strom Thurmond, and Joseph McCarthy. The letter expressed: “Dear Mr. Baird, Thanks for your communication. I favor extending the benefits of the Social Security Act to law enforcement officers. Consequently, I will do everything in my power to assist in the passage of the legislation which you desire.”
C.D.’s efforts did not take long. By July 27, 1955, Sen. Ervin introduced the following bill: “To authorize the extension of the old-age and survivors insurance system to policemen, sheriffs, and other State or local law-enforcement officers in North Carolina. …”
As a husband and father of four children, C.D. benefitted from the Social Security bill, but so did all law enforcement officers in North Carolina and eventually throughout the United States. Also, to make sure law enforcement officers would always benefit, no matter how rural the town, “he put it to Sen. Ervin that the benefits were to be paid by the State and not by local government so there would be no bias or control on the local level,” said Jerry. “Every local law enforcement officer working today owes his or her Social Security and retirement to my father.”
During his long tenure as Chief of Police of the Town of Franklin, C.D. also established an actual police force that included more individuals than just him. Today, the Franklin Police Department is multi-faceted, including not only Police Chief David Adams, but captains, detectives, patrol officers and sergeants, administrators, and more, along with a fleet of patrol cars.
“My father was able to eventually retire on Social Security but not retirement, which was not retroactive; but the people he hired and the police force he built, did benefit,” said Jerry.
Jerry expressed that because his father was so dedicated to his career in law enforcement, it was not until Jerry returned to Franklin after serving in the Air Force that he was able to spend quality time learning about his father’s accomplishments.
“My father was the light of my life. I think about him every day. I don’t think I could have had a better role model.”