North Carolina: Progress since 1900

Progress since 1900

The turn of the century marked the beginning of a new progressive era, typified by the successful airplane experiments of the Wright Brothers near Kitty Hawk. The crusade for public education for both whites and blacks led by Gov. Charles B. Aycock, elected in 1900, had a wide impact, and new interest was created in developing the state's agricultural and industrial resources. However, one old pattern was strengthened when a suffrage amendment, the “grandfather clause” assuring white supremacy, was added (1900) to the state constitution.

Since World War I the state government has increasingly followed a policy of consolidation and centralization, taking over the public school system and the supervision of county finances and roads. A huge highway development program, begun by the counties in 1921, was assumed by the state a decade later when the counties could no longer meet the costs. Expenditures for higher education were greatly increased, and the three major state educational institutions were merged into a greater entity, the Univ. of North Carolina. North Carolina, more than many other Southern states, was able to make a peaceful adjustment to integration in the public schools following the Supreme Court's desegregation ruling in 1954.

Industrialization burgeoned after World War II, and in the 1950s the value of manufactured goods surpassed that of agriculture for the first time, as North Carolina became the leading industrial state in the Southeast. The Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham airports were both transformed into major air-travel hubs during the 1980s, reflecting the tremendous growth (most of it suburban) in those metropolitan areas, which were becoming financial, business, and research boomtowns. Traditional, low-skill industries have been gradually replaced by high-technology concerns, especially in the Research Triangle between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, which draws on the resources of the three cities' universities. Farming in North Carolina has become increasingly dominated by the large-scale production of hogs and broiler chickens, raising environmental concerns about the disposal of their waste. In Sept., 1999, floods on the Cape Fear and other rivers followed Hurricane Floyd, causing widespread devastation in the southeast; rains from Hurricane Matthew caused similar flooding and devastation in the state's east in Oct., 2016.

Democrats held the governship from 1992 on, including Beverly Perdue, who won the post in 2008, becoming the state's first woman governor. When the Republicans regained total control of the legislature in 2010, they redrew the Congressional districts in a way that favored their own party; this lead to multiple lawsuits and two subsequent changes to these districts to make them more representative of the state's overall population. In 2012, conservative Republican Pat McCrory (2013-17) was elected governor; he made national news by signing into law a bill that restricted local governments from enacting antidiscrimination measures and the rights of transgender people in 2016. The law was repealed following his loss to Democrat Roy Cooper in 2016, who is currently serving in his second term. Cooper has sparred with the state's Republican-dominated legislature, that voted to limit his powers just before his first inauguration.

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