The Old North Star State, in many ways the new dividing line between the north and the south, has a history of leading the nation. Even today, what happens in NC matters around the country.
Here are some highlights of how NC has lead the nation from the American Revolution to today.
- North Carolina was the first state to declare independence, but the last to ratify until the addition of the Bill of Rights – first 10 Amendments guaranteeing Due Process, the First Amendment, etc.
- NC also realized the importance of education in all of this, creating the first completely public (later land grant) university system, and the only one to matriculate students in the 18th century.
CIVIL WAR ERA
- NC is well known for having had some of the harshest slavery laws. In spite of or even because of that, NC was the front lines in the abolitionist movement.
- The first Underground Railroad stop was in present day Greensboro.
- It’s also been said NC had some of the highest rates of AWOL Civil War soldiers, who figured early on that fighting one’s brothers when over 90% owned no slaves, wasn’t worth dying for or leaving fields fallow.
- NC created broad coalitions of religious, whites, blacks in forming the state constitution and again led the nation, with dozens of African American statesmen in the House and Senate.
- During the Constitutional Convention, NC architects changed Jefferson’s famous words “all men are created equal” to “all people are created equal” — a remarkable bit of foresight some 50+ years before women’s suffrage.
- Of course, with progress fear can also creep in. As African Americans were becoming more prosperous, working poor and rich whites felt threatened, and the then-Democratic party managed to coalesce an absolute majority in NC Congress.
- Plessy v Ferguson was decided in 1896 creating the pervasive precedent of “separate but equal”.
- The Klan emerged, with its membership peaking in the 1920s. From then until 1970, five million blacks left the south in The Great Migration.
- And so it was that in the mid-20th century, a second Reconstruction was born in the movement for Civil Rights.
- Brown v the Board of Education: 1954 landmark decision that ruled separate was most definitely not equal.
- The Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins and Massacre
- Two redistrictings, which were both ruled unconstitutional based on racial gerrymandering, though it will be at least another year before they’re redrawn, making our elections somewhat futile.
- Voting rights were also under attack, citing false claims of voter fraud (of over 8M votes, one turned out to be bad)- Souls to the Polls, and other avenues- late and early, Sunday voting, were severely curbed resulting in an 8% decline in African American voting in NC.
- And we cannot forget HB2- the most egregious attack on civil rights- not only for LGBTQ populations, but also to legal redress, and allowing discrimination for numerous groups- that sparked a flurry of similar legislation in other states.
But through this, NC has once again stepped up to lead the way as we are the home of the Moral Monday Movement- a broad intersectional coalition led by NAACP and the Reverend Doctor Barber, which has brought together moderates of all parties, workers, feminists, LGBTQ family, Jews, Muslims, Christians, scientists, teachers, politicians and more. This kind of fusion politics is precisely what’s needed to bring about what Barber calls the Third Reconstruction.
One of these efforts to combine education with action is a new nonpartisan series called “This is What Democracy Looks Like”, a Facebook live series that premiered this week. If you missed the premier, you can watch it here:
Each episode will be focused on a special topic with a special guest, a conversation about gerrymandering, how to navigate the NCGA, checks and balances, specific pieces of legislation, etc. You’ll get a 20 minute education, with links for more information, and ending with Calls To Action so you can decide how and what, if anything, you’d like to do about it.
We hope this series serves to reduce the frustration so many feel when we ask ourselves what we can do, and answers the question, “what does democracy look like?” This is what democracy looks like – you and me, people of all colors, shapes and backgrounds, and political parties, all of us participating in our ways in shaping our own state house and nation. This is what democracy looks like. I hope you’ll tune in next time, send us questions and topics, and nominate yourselves or others to be guests. After all, “Y’all means all”.
A version of this blog post can also be found on Medium.