Before Jim Hunt, North Carolina's "progressive plutocracy" had produced in the twentieth century two dominant figures, Senator Furnifold Simmons and Governor O. Max Gardner. Between them they ruled the political establishment for almost half a century ( 1900-1948).
But Gardner's death in 1947 marked the start of serious factionalism inside the Democratic Party. Although the Republicans failed to win a major statewide office until twenty-four years later, no single Democratic organization prevailed for long between 1948 and 1972. Kerr Scott, the "Good Roads" farmer governor, announced he was "letting in a little fresh air" when he defeated the Gardner machine's last candidate, Charles Johnson, in 1948. Scott later went to the Senate, but he never succeeded in entrenching his "branch-head boys" (although in 1968 his son, Bob Scott, won the governorship). Governor Luther Hodges, a moderate conservative industrialist, dominated the 1950s. The 1960s were split between Governor Terry Sanford, a moderate liberal, and Governor Dan Moore, a moderate conservative.
By mid-century North Carolina had moved some distance from what Judge Robert Winston had called her in 1923--a "militant mediocracy." Winston described the state as populated by plain people, neither rich nor aristocratic but rather provincial and proud of it. Indeed, it was said of North Carolina that it was a state "too proud to be proud." A Virginian who called the Tar Heels a tail of Jefferson's kite criticized their aggressiveness in declarations of modesty. "The trouble with you people," he concluded, "is that you're so damned proud of your modesty."
But times were subtly changing. The University at Chapel Hill had helped dilute some of the provincialism, and new forces were stirring. Some of the self-abasement of the past had begun to dissipate. The strict conservatism of what had once been called the Rip Van Winkle State had given way to the flux of progressive ideas. Scholars have noted that the South delayed longer than the rest of the nation in reconciling its traditions and culture with revolutionary changes wrought by Darwin, Freud, Marx, and Einstein. North Carolina's awakening came late too; but it came in a hurry.
Because of Chapel Hill and its cult of new leadership, the state's political structure had begun to reflect new influences too. Because it had never succumbed to the blandishments of the kind of extremist white demagogues