Charlotte Readers Podcast: Pam Kelley

Pam Kelley

Cocaine, Race and Ambition in New South Charlotte

In this episode, we run head-long into a family’s story of cocaine, race, and ambition in the New South. They say truth is often stranger than fiction and this true story of a drug dealer’s life in Charlotte is no exception.

The book is called Money Rock and in it, author Pam Kelley pulls back the curtain to reveal a Charlotte history that is little known and not discussed enough.

Charlotte Readers Podcast is sponsored by Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Learn More About This Episode
Learn More About This Episode

In this episode, we run head-long into a family’s story of cocaine, race, and ambition in the New South. They say truth is often stranger than fiction and this true story of a drug dealer’s life in Charlotte is no exception.

The book is called Money Rock and in it, author Pam Kelley pulls back the curtain to reveal a Charlotte history that is little known and not discussed enough.

Here’s a segment from early in the book that described the man known as Money Rock and the drug he was selling.

“The date was Saturday, November 30, 1985. After-Thanksgiving shoppers

filled local malls; fragrant pines and firs, freshly cut from North

Carolina’s mountains, stocked Christmas tree lots. It was gray and rainy,

a lazy holiday weekend in Charlotte, but not for Belton, who dominated

Piedmont Courts’ cocaine trade and meant to keep it that way. He was

twenty-two years old, with a sprinkling of brown freckles across his

caramel-colored cheeks that would later be noted (“Freckles on face”)

in FBI descriptions. He ran on ego and ignorance, good intentions and

greed, but he had a reputation in Piedmont Courts as a no-nonsense

guy, out to make money, not trouble. He acknowledged older residents

with yes ma’ams and yes sirs, and was careful to avoid profanity. Women

went for him; his earnest nature put people at ease. When he smiled, his

brown eyes lit up. Today, however, Belton wasn’t smiling.

The reputation of cocaine and coke dealers has been so bad in America

for so long that it’s easy to forget that stretch of time in the 1970s,

before Belton got into the game, when the drug was associated with

rich white people, not black gangsters. In August 1977, when Belton

was thirteen, the Charlotte News published a front-page feature

whose casual treatment of cocaine now seems extraordinary. Labeled

“Cocaine . . . drug of the rich,” the story opened with a man it called

Paul, a thirty-something manufacturer’s representative who places his

straw into a tiny mound of cocaine powder, lifts it to his nose, and

inhales. “Cocaine,” he said with a smile, “is probably the most sociable

drug in the world.”

Pam’s career as an award-winning journalist allowed her to cover the gun fight that led to Money Rock’sdecline and then years later, his rebirth as a born-again preacher.

You may be surprised at what you learn in this historical account that reads like a novel.

Pam Kelley’s book, Money Rock, grew out of her work at the Charlotte Observer, where she was a reporter for more than thirty years. Shelf Awareness described Money Rock as a “hell of a story…like a New South version of The Wire.” Money Rock, the man, was one of Charlotte’s most successful cocaine dealers and his story is interwoven with the historical racial disparities that continue to segregate in a city on the rise.

Pam’s favorite stories have always been about underdogs and outsiders, but as a reporter, she covered the gamut, investigations to features. She’s won honors from the National Press Club, National Education Writers Association and the Society for Features Journalism.

Pam grew up in Ohio – in the same county as Hillbilly Elegy’s J.D. Vance. She headed south for college at UNC Chapel Hill and never left. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College and lives in Cornelius with her husband, a professor at Davidson College.

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