North Carolina is one of the most beautiful states I’ve seen. The Colorado Rocky Mountains in winter and places like the Oregon Coast can shock you with unique grandeur, but North Carolina, with its wide range of elevations, that start at its stunning, historic  coast, that rises to 6,684 feet above sea level at Mount Mitchell–the highest point in North America east of the Mississippi RiverIS simply miles and miles of picturesque farmlands, and historic towns and cities that cut through what was part of the Great American Forest. The four-season foliage slows one down and calms the mind. Not even Montana’s, “Big Sky” can humble the “Carolina Blue” sky that often reaches down and lifts the eye in quiet reverence.

Like people, North Carolina has a shadow. Its natives sometime refer to it as a, “greedy state,” when it comes to taxes. In defense, it’s one of the few remaining states that uses some of those tax dollars to maintain her highways and roads that are regularly mowed, and planted with shrubs and colorful flowers. They stay on top of potholes and regularly resurface roadways.

North Carolina History

I believe that every place is a continuation of its first inception. San Francisco is still the Barbary Coast. Oakland and Chicago are still cities of, “Broad Shoulders.” While television has homogenized a great deal of the United States, each region of this vast country has its own unique cultural twist and complexities, and I find exploring the history of a place helps me to understand it.

North Carolina can track its roots back thousands of years to of prehistoric indigenous cultures. Before 200 AD, these succeeding cultures built earthwork mounds in the area I now live in called, The Piedmont.

  • In 1567, Spanish colonial forces were the first Europeans to make a permanent settlement in the area, when the Juan Pardo-led expedition built Fort San Juan, in what is now Burke County, North Carolina, about 300 miles in the interior in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (The fort lasted only 18 months; the local inhabitants killed all but one of the 120 men Pardo had stationed at a total of six forts in the area.)
  • In 1729, North Carolina became one of the English Thirteen Colonies. At that time, both North and South Carolina were one state called, “the Province of Carolina.” Due to a political disagreement, they separated that same year.
  • After the Revolution, Quakers and Mennonites worked to persuade slaveholders to free their slaves. (NOTE: This too gives NC its own unique twists when it comes to politics and race.) Hence, the number of free people of color rose markedly in the first couple of decades after the American Revolution.
  • On November 21, 1789, North Carolina became the twelfth state to ratify the Constitution.
  • During the antebellum period, North Carolina was an overwhelmingly rural state, even by Southern standards.
  • By In 1840, Most of North Carolina’s slave owners and large plantations were located in the eastern portion of the state. (Even today home of some of the more racist attitudes.) Although North Carolina’s plantation system was smaller and less cohesive than that of Virginia, Georgia, or South Carolina, slave owning planters with large estates wielded significant political and socio-economic power in antebellum North Carolina. They placed their interests above those of the generally non-slave-holding “yeoman” farmers of western North Carolina.
  • Besides slaves, there were a number of free people of color in the state. Most were descended from free African Americans who had migrated along with neighbors from Virginia during the 18th century. The majority were the descendants of unions in the working classes between white women, indentured servants or free, and African men, indentured, slave or free. (Above facts pulled from NC Wikipedia page.)

Civil War Period

  • In 1860, North Carolina was a slave state, in which one-third of the population was enslaved. Supposedly, this was a smaller proportion than many other Southern states. “The state did not vote to join the Confederacy until President Abraham Lincoln called on it to invade its sister state, South Carolina, becoming the last or second-to-last state to officially join the Confederacy.” ~From, “
  • North Carolina was the site of few battles, but it provided the Confederacy with at least 125,000 troops, which is far more than any other state did. Approximately 40,000 of those troops died: more than half of disease, the remainder from battlefield wounds and from starvation. North Carolina also supplied about 15,000 Union troops.
  • After secession, some North Carolinians refused to support the Confederacy. Some of the yeoman farmers in the state’s mountains and western Piedmont region remained neutral during the Civil War, while some covertly supported the Union cause during the conflict. Approximately 2,000 North Carolinians from western North Carolina enlisted in the Union Army and fought for the North in the war. Two additional Union Army regiments were raised in the coastal areas of the state, which were occupied by Union forces in 1862 and 1863. Numerous slaves escaped to Union lines, where they became essentially free.

Everything above gives North Carolina a distinctly unique culture when it comes to ethnicity and class. The simple “black and white” divide is far more complex–and contradictory here. To the outsider, it can initially feel like being caught in a barbwire fence of contradictions and confusions.

Imagine as a black person newly arrived, you walk into a café, and take a seat next to the window. Seated close by, you may hear a middle-age white man boast about the Confederacy–and he’s talking in the present tense. Then, in walks a white father and his 20-something blond haired daughter carrying a black—mixed race—baby. Out the window, you spot an irritating group of young black guys LOUDLY rapping… rapid fire spouting the N-word every other second. A young black waitress warmly takes the order of an elderly white woman… “Yes ma’am/No ma’am,” and then turns to you with insulting ferocious rudeness. Then an integrated church group of laughing, well-dressed people walk in and warmly greet you like you’re a long lost cousin. Then a “Mexican” family and friends walk in and scowl at you like you’re in East Los Angeles and they’ve just caught you slipping. The Asian couple wisely ignores totally you.

Now…when you leave the café, you’ll encounter people of those same exact demographics in reverse roles you’ve just encountered. The young black men are now composed university students. The waitress is now white and polite to you. The Confederate now is a liberal with the values of a West Coast 60s radical. The mean-spirited “Mexican” group is now a Puerto Rican who calls you, “Bro.” This is only ONE reason that moving to North Carolina will take you five to ten years to adapt.

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The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek - Joseph