Alcoholics Anonymous History In Your Area
Moore County, North Carolina
The “Mother Group” of Alcoholics Anonymous in Moore County
The “Mother Group” of Alcoholics Anonymous in Moore County is the Southern Pines Group, which meets at Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Monday nights. It was founded in 1947.
The circumstances that led to that first group in Southern Pines began in a hotel lobby in Akron, Ohio in 1935. Our founder, Bill W., was in Akron on a business trip. He was six months sober. During his hospitalization for alcoholism, he had discovered certain principles. One of those principles was that he must work with other alcoholics in order to sustain his sobriety.
Bill was looking for a drunk to work with when he saw a church directory in the lobby of his hotel. He called several ministers searching for an active alcoholic and the calls led him to Dr. Bob, our co-founder to be. Bob got sober sharing with Bill but relapsed on a medical convention while out of town. When he returned, Bill detoxed him on beer. We date the birth of our society from Dr. Bob’s last drink, on June 10, 1935.
Dr. Bob remained in Akron where he founded the first group of what was to become Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill W. returned to New York City where he started the Alcoholics Foundation, which eventually became the General Service Office (GSO) of AA> The infant, nameless society was small and grew very slowly in the first years of its existence. By 1939, one hundred people managed to get sober in three small groups – the original group in Akron, a satellite group in Cleveland and the New York City group started by Bill.
Those one hundred people compiled their collective experience in a book entitled Alcoholics Anonymous. Our society takes its name from that book.
AA’s growth remained very slow until 1941. It then received it’s first national exposure when “The Saturday Evening Post” published an article by Jack Alexander about Alcoholics Anonymous. That article resulted in eight thousand inquires to the Alcoholic Foundation, which at the time was staffed by Bill W. and his non-alcoholic secretary, Nell Wing. Many of those inquires led to AA groups being started by mail from New York.
We think it possible, even likely, that someone locally wrote to Bill W. at the Alcoholic Foundation in New York and was sent a Big Book, some literature and encouragement to start the Southern Pines AA Group. to give a local perspective, there exists in the files of one of our oldest members an AA meeting list from 1945 for North Carolina. It lists only seven groups. Our old-timer relates that the first group in North Carolina was in Shelby.
The Southern Pines Group is the oldest group in Moore County. The group has changed location and formats many times over the years. None of the founders of the group are still alive but we do have older members who recall them. For the 50th anniversary of the group in 1997, the GSO was contacted and they shared with us that, in their archives from 1947, they have correspondence with the Southern Pines Group. The archivist told the group that the early meetings were held in a room in the arcades of the building that now houses Hawkins and Harkness Jewelers on Broad Street. Later, and for many years, the group met at Campbell House on Connecticut Avenue.
In 1982, the Southern Pines group moved to the Episcopal Church. Recently the group has changed from a speaker Meeting to an “As Bill Sees It” format. According to one of our oldest members, the group actually heard Bill W. in 1948 when he visited while passing through Southern Pines on his way to Florida.
The Episcopal Church has also been the long-standing site for two daytime meetings – the Tuesday noon “Southern Pines Group” and the Thursday 10 a.m. “Morning Break Group” – both of them closed discussion, non-smoking meetings.
Five men and a woman started the Aberdeen Group on February 14, 1959. One of the men, the “old-timer” of the group with nine months of sobriety, had gotten sober in Fayetteville, the rest had been going to the meetings in Southern Pines. Three of these original six members are still alive and sober as of this writing. The first recruit of the group was a man who worked for the railroad. Our old-timer recalls that he was a very rough case and took all their efforts. The man did eventually get, and stay, sober and was a vital part of the group for many years.
The group first met in the old Aberdeen Fire Station – the present site of First Bank. After 6 months, they received permission from the town to use the old Community Building on Wilder Avenue for their meetings. The building was in poor repair. You may review the photos of the renovations to make the building habitable. They are hanging on the back wall of the Wilder Building.
As a historical sidelight, the Aberdeen Community Building was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project and was dedicated in 1935 by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There remains a couple of members of the Aberdeen Group who recall being present at the dedication as children.
We interviewed the sole founding member of the group who is still living in Moore County. He told us that the group received a lot of support in the early days from the Southern Pines Group and from the Central Carolina Group of Sanford (which was originally started with the support of the Southern Pines Group.)
The Aberdeen Group originally met on Tuesday and Saturday for Speaker Meetings. Our old-timer does not recall when the format was changed to a discussion on Tuesday. Very slowly, meetings were expanded to the present eleven per week.
The first meeting to be added to Aberdeen was the Wednesday Newcomers Meeting, which was started in June of 1981 by four very fresh alcoholics, none of whom had more than ninety days of sobriety. That meeting grew very quickly because the new treatment center in Pinehurst started busing their patients in for the meetings. This was a bit overwhelming to the founding four members.
In addition to meeting on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, Aberdeen now hosts a meeting for men on Monday nights; a meeting for women on Saturday mornings; an “As Bill Sees It” on Saturdays at noon’ and Eleventh Step meeting on Sunday mornings; discussion meetings on Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights; and most recently, a Step Meeting at noon on Wednesdays and a closed discussion meeting for gays, lesbians and friends on Friday nights.
The third oldest group that was formed in Moore County is the Village Chapel Group. It has continued the format of discussing one step each week since its inception. In former times, when there were fewer meetings, it had a very large audience. Now, on any given Thursday night in the Chapel Annex, you will find fifteen to twenty alcoholics discussing the steps.
The Hospital Beginner’s Meeting was started in 1974 and the Sunday Hospital Speaker’s Meeting was added in the mid 1980’s. The hospital originally had a small detoxification unit and later a treatment center was established.
Besides the two groups already mentioned there have been any number of other meetings at the hospital whose aim was to carry the message to the hospitalized alcoholic. Currently the Primary Purpose Group sponsors inside meetings twice weekly for the sole benefit of the patients in the treatment center.
In addition to the hospital being a fertile ground for new members, there are two halfway houses in Moore County – Bethesda for men and Bethany for women. there is also a small adolescent treatment program, Bethesda Link. These facilities are not affiliated with AA but they have a related mission and have given many newly sober AA members a place to begin their journey in sobriety.
The old West End Senior Citizens Building has been the meeting location of the West End group since it was started in March 1979. the group meets at 7 p.m. on Sunday nights. The group quickly attracted a lot of recovering people from nearby Montgomery County. It was the first group started away from the more populous Southern Pines / Pinehurst ‘ Aberdeen area and has benefited from the growth of the Seven Lakes community.
Besides West End, smaller towns with meetings include Vass and Carthage. There was a group in Robbins but it is currently inactive.
AA groups are started form many reasons. The Southern Pines Big Book Group was started in 1982 by those who felt there was a need for a group which concentrated on reading and studying the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. They also felt a need to revitalize the concept of the home group with its attendant sense of group identification and responsibility.
The Big Book Group originally met in St. Anthony’s Catholic Church and moved to Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in 1983. It has added Step Groups and monthly Speaker Meetings to its format.
The Vass Group was founded in 1983 when a local minister invited three AA members who lived in Vass to start an AA meeting at the First Baptist Church. The first meeting was held in the sanctuary of the church. It was attended by three men, a prospect they were 12th stepping and a couple of members of the Central Carolina Group from Sanford.
Three of the members of the Vass Group signed a note at a local bank and the old church sanctuary was fixed up with a kitchen and central heating and air-conditioning to make it suitable to hold meetings. the group originally had a closed discussion meeting on Wednesday and Thursday nights and a speaker meeting on Saturday. The format now is for one meeting a week, closed discussion on Wednesday.
Because of their location in the northern part of the county, the Vass Group attracts members from Lee, Chatham, Harnette and Cumberland Counties. Every year for their anniversary they have an “eating meeting” with a special speaker, which draws a large crowd.
Another group planned and formed for a specific reason is The Primary Purpose Group in Southern Pines. It was started in June 1997, and concentrates on basic AA and carrying the message. The group emphasizes action and service. All areas of AA service are in place and functioning in this group. There is focus on correctional facilities, treatment facilities, public information and cooperation with the professional community, newcomers sessions, regularly scheduled workshops on recovery-related areas, Intergroup, District and area activities. The Primary Purpose Group holds that action is indeed the “magic” word.
Some our local college students felt the need for a meeting during their busy academic day. Thus, in the spring of 2000, one of them obtained permission to start the “Friends of Bill W.” meeting on the Sandhills Community College premises, Airport Road, Southern Pines. They meet at noon on Thursdays for open discussion, non-smoking.
As Tradition Ten states: “Alcoholic Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues, hence the AA name may never be drawn into public controversy”. However, we are not exempt from forces acting on society, nor are we so naive as to believe that those forces have no effect on how AA has grown and evolved in Moore County.
AA was started by middle-aged, middle-class white makes. AA has well documented its own struggles to become a more diverse fellowship. For example, it took several years before the first woman got sober in the program. That woman, Marty M., founded the National Council on Alcoholism. Fortunately, in recent years, the number of women in AA has more accurately reflected the numbers who suffer from alcoholism. A reasonable estimate would be that about 30 to 40% of the local membership is female.
Until the middle 1960’s, segregation as an institution was legal in North Carolina. Generally in the South, and locally, unconscious acquiescence to the status quo. For many years blacks were rare in local AA meetings. There were efforts in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s to start a meeting in West Southern Pines, a group that would not be restricted to blacks, but one in which blacks would feel more comfortable.
The West Southern Pines meetings were first held in a nightclub and later in a black owned funeral home. Among the target audience was a group of “winos” who met near the nightclub under the “Tree of Knowledge”. The meeting produced no converts at the time and eventually folded. However, by 1988 enough people with solid recovery, including some alumni of the “Tree of Knowledge”, were interested in carrying the message to the black community.
These people united to form the West Side Group in August of 1988. The group has moved twice and now meets in The Douglas Center on Pennsylvania Avenue on Wednesday nights. It is now well attended by a large, racially and gender diverse group of alcoholics.
although the only requirement for membership in Alcoholics Anonymous is a desire to stop drinking, it is human nature to feel more comfortable in some settings than in others. That is why there are closed AA meetings and why some members prefer speaker or discussion meetings. Groups are formed to meet such needs.
Of course, alcohol is not the only substance that ruins lives. Many of the people who come to AA have addictions to other substances. How to handle this issue has been a source of controversy within the fellowship for years. In general, most group in Moore County have done well with the issue and some even address the issue in their opening remarks. The group conscience is usually made clear to an individual who may not yet understand that the requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking and that our primary purpose is to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. The wide availability of other fellowships has also been very helpful in this respect.
Another way that Alcoholics Anonymous is a reflection of our society as a whole is the controversy over smoking. This issue split groups and generated resentments. In the late 1980’s many of the meeting locations, because of societal pressures and decisions of their governing bodies, were banned from smoking. Such a situation led to the founding of two groups, The Higher Power Group, which meets on Friday nights at Emmanuel Episcopal Church and the Aberdeen Friday Night Discussion Group.
In 1989, the church board at Emmanuel Church decided to make the facility non-smoking. the main body of the group that had met there on Friday nights moved to Aberdeen – leaving a small non-smoking remnant who stayed at the church and reorganized as the Higher Power Group. Their attendance stayed low at under 10 members for two or three years but now averages 25-30 per meeting.
The classic AA meeting with a smoke-filled room and a big coffee urn in the back still exists, but the majority of AA meetings in Moore County are now non-smoking. Although smoking and AA meetings were so long inseparable, one cannot help but reflect that Bill W., his sponsor Ebby and Dr. Bob all died of smoke related diseases.
Working with incarcerated alcoholics is another form of service work in which many local A members are involved. Individual alcoholics for years have volunteered to carry the message into the prisons and jails, but in recent years there has been a much more organized effort that has evolved it’s own service structure. Moore County yearly hosts regional and statewide correctional facility meetings.
AA in Moore County is a very small part of a greater whole. We are part of District 52 of Area 51, which is North Carolina. Many of us as individuals, while representing our groups, have had the opportunity to perform service work at the Intergroup, Area and District levels as well as participating in service work in the Correctional Facilities Service structure. Service work, on any level, from making the coffee or attending meetings to chairing the State Convention is extremely rewarding and sobriety enhancing to those who choose to seek it out.
From that small beginning in 1947, AA in Moore County has grown immensely. There are now AA meetings every day – almost 30 per week as of this writing.
As a resort area we, of course, serve as host to visiting members of the fellowship who are usually very complimentary of the meeting available here. The burgeoning number of groups, meetings and other opportunities to carry the message demonstrates that AA is not a “one size fits all” organization and that the number and variety of meetings exists because there is a need for them.
Our experience and the experiences of those who have gone before us have clearly marked the path. If we keep to our primary purpose to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers we will continue, as individuals and as a society, to successfully “trudge the road to happy destiny” into the future of our recovery.
The Sandhills Intergroup, like all AA groups, has its primary purpose of carrying the message to the still suffering alcoholic. This message includes how those who have gone before have achieved sobriety. We feel that this is especially important for the newcomer because he or she usually spends most of their time, energy and effort trying to get sober and stay sober. They seldom give much thought as to how this new circle of recovering friends came to exist. We feel it is important for the newcomer to have this information.
Lastly, we must, in all humility, recognize the many friends and supports whose assistance and love have been central to our success.
Alcoholism is a family disease. Without the support of our friends and families, including the fellowships of Al-Anon and Alateen, recovery would have been more difficult for most of us.
In addition, since AA cannot own property, we have relied on our local churches, governments and health care agencies for our meeting sites. We thank them all.
Finally, we hold beyond price the genuine high regard and esteem granted to the fellowship by our fellow citizens.
Aberdeen, North Carolina
Copyright © April 2001 The Sandhills Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous