Vol. 12


A Better World Full of Light

1890–1917; Pine Level, Johnston County, North Carolina, USA

Clarence slumped down on a tree stump. “Flora, I’m not going to pick up pine knots1 my whole life,” my great-great-great-grandfather told his sister.

It was a hot summer day in the late 1890s, and Flora and Clarence Godwin were young children. Deep in a small town called Pine Level in North Carolina, they were laboring away at “clearing new ground.” “Clearing new ground” is a term for a rather grueling process that includes felling a tree. Every part of the tree was dug up by hand, including the stump. Since Flora and Clarence were young at the time, they were tasked with the job of picking up the pine knots. But Clarence had bigger plans.

“One day,” he continued, “I’m going to live in a big house where I’ll just press a button and the lights will come on. I won’t draw water with a chain and bucket from a well — the water will already be in my house. I’m going places and will see things, and the places I’m going are not going to be ‘new ground.’”

Flora mulled over her brother’s endeavors for a time. Such wild, untamed fantasies galloped through her brother’s head. A bit taken aback, she went to her first defense: her superiority.

“Clarence, if you don’t get off that stump, Father will whip you and you’ll be glad to draw water from a chain and bucket.”

Many years later, on June 12, 1917, at the age of thirty, Clarence I. (CI) Godwin did the impossible. Armed with his electric company at his back, Clarence lit up the town of Four Oaks, North Carolina. He financed wiring of Kenly, Four Oaks, Princeton, and his hometown, Pine Level.

But most people didn’t like the idea of electricity. People said vile things about Clarence Godwin and Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. The reason behind this is that people didn’t think electricity was needed. Good, honest citizens rose with the sun and worked all day. When they went home, all they wanted was a good supper and then to go to bed. People who slept in and stayed up late were rumored of doing the devil’s work.

But people adapted, and times changed until we reached the civilization we have today, nearly fully dependent on electricity. Clarence never let anyone put him down and followed the dream that was planted in his head as a little boy. Passion and determination helped him persevere and not give up. Clarence did it for the people he knew would see the benefits of electricity. He persevered for his family and future generations that would live a life full of light. He kept going for himself and the little boy who dreamed of a better life. Clarence I. Godwin believed in himself and never picked up another pine knot.

Elizabeth Grace Norris; North Carolina, USA


1. A pine knot is a joint in pinewood. Pine knots burn long and hot because they are hard and have a lot of resin.



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