The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events that Shaped Modern North Carolina

By Rob Christensen | Go to book overview

chapter 8
Phoenix Rising

Harvey Gantt was one of the few black racial pioneers for whom Jesse Helms had kind words.

Gantt, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, made national headlines when he enrolled at Clemson University in 1963, becoming the first black student to attend a white public college in South Carolina. Three months earlier, rioting had erupted when James Meredith had integrated the University of Mississippi. To avoid a repetition, 200 police set up roadblocks around Clemson to keep out troublemakers. Gantt’s enrollment drew 150 reporters, and the twenty-year-old transfer student was soon giving interviews on network television and to national magazines.

In a WRAL-TV editorial, Helms praised Gantt’s behavior, especially in comparison with that of Meredith. “If ever a man put his best foot forward, Harvey Gantt has done so,” Helms said. “His conduct will not cause South Carolinians to relish court orders relating to integration. But he has done a great deal, probably more than he himself realizes, to establish respectful communications across sensitive barriers in human relations.”1

Gantt’s rise in politics says much about how North Carolina had changed. By 1990, North Carolina was squarely in the country’s economic mainstream. The median income in North Carolina was $37,604, compared to the U.S. average of $42,765. North Carolina’s poverty rate was nearly identical to the national average. The state now had a slight urban majority.2

Just as importantly, attitudes toward race had shifted with integration of the schools and workplaces. In a state without big cities, Charlotte had developed into the largest metropolitan area of the Carolinas. It is a city with a lot of commercial hustle and swagger, and boasts some of the largest skyscrapers in the South. By the end of the century, only New York was a bigger banking center.

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The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics: The Personalities, Elections, and Events that Shaped Modern North Carolina
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Prologue 7
  • Chapter 1 - The Simmons Machine 34
  • Chapter 2 - The Shelby Dynasty 62
  • Chapter 3 - Branchhead Boys 109
  • Chapter 4 - The Last of the Conservative Democrats 154
  • Chapter 5 - Dixie Dynamo 179
  • Chapter 6 - Jessecrats 203
  • Chapter 7 - Jim Hunt and the Democratic Revival 235
  • Chapter 8 - Phoenix Rising 261
  • Chapter 9 - A New Century 287
  • Epilogue 311
  • Appendix Endings 319
  • Notes 323
  • Index 345
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