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North Carolina Liberalism


North Carolina Liberalism


When researching North Carolinian reactions to major judicial and political oppression in the Reconstruction era (1865-1877), many primary sources indicate that North Carolina was liberal in relation to other southern states. Yet, in an era of such prominent discriminatory violence, how could North Carolina possibly be regarded as a liberal state following its secession from the Union and its inability to join the nation’s efforts in promoting racial equality? Concentrated in an area of harsh political and economic injustice, North Carolina prided itself on its ability to produce substantial separation from minority groups, often due to its reliance on organized violence. In “Revisiting the Southern Culture of Violence,” scholars credited this widespread interest in violence to “high rates of homicide observed in the South [that] could in large part be accounted for by structural factors, most notably structurally embedded poverty and inequality.” (Lee et al, 2007, 254) Despite many newspapers and other primary sources’ descriptions of Reconstruction North Carolina as a liberal state, Lee and his fellow contributing authors’ analysis points to traditionally persistent socioeconomic disparities that rendered minorities inferior to southern white elites. With little political and cultural representation in the nineteenth century, minorities in North Carolina that sought assimilation were victims to outdated ideologies interested only in protecting the welfare of white men.  Preserving these cultural values in relation to geographic location, as Lee and his fellow scholars state, depended on the maintenance of southern white “attitudes and expectations as a consequence of socialization.” (Lee et al, 2007, 256) Moreover, the widespread belief that whites were superior to other races deprived African Americans of their prescribed rights within the Constitution following the war. 

As the exploitation of blacks’ political, economic, and social rights persevered, the recognition and assimilation of African Americans seemed increasingly unachievable.  Additionally, Ronald E. Butchart—author of “Black Hope, White Power: Emancipation, Reconstruction and the Legacy of Unequal Schooling in the US South, 1861–1880”—noted that “crushing the most liberatory aspects” of black culture ultimately exacerbated the social gap between blacks and whites. (Butchart, 2010, 36) In such practices, how could contemporaries of the Reconstruction era—both northern and southern—have even thought to describe North Carolina as a liberal political entity?  Through countless forms of political and economic misrepresentation North Carolinian whites assured their superiority that paved the way for a continued dependency on efforts to supplant black interests.  By 1877, North Carolina whites' resistance to social change and equal opportunity had forced blacks to succumb to the high levels of inequality in southern culture that they had broken free from only a decade earlier.  


Lee, Matthew R., William B. Bankston, Timothy C. Hayes, and Shaun A. Thomas. "Revisiting the Southern Culture of Violence." Sociological Quarterly 48, no. 2 (2007): 253-75. Accessed October 22, 2014. Ebscohost.

Butchart, Ronald E. "Black Hope, White Power: Emancipation, Reconstruction and the Legacy of Unequal Schooling in the US South, 1861-1880." Paedagogica Historica 46, no. 1 (2010): 33-50. Accessed October 22, 2014. Ebscohost.


Adam Lipay


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Adam Lipay, North Carolina Liberalism, Civil War Era NC, accessed February 22, 2024,