74 SCHOOLS in NORTH CAROLINA
Nicknamed the Tarheel State, North Carolina is famed for its stability and endurance. The name was originally an insult referring to the state’s early industry (boiling pine sap into pitch), but North Carolinians took on the name with pride as a symbol of their tenacity; once they dug in their heels, they stayed dug in. North Carolina was Britain’s first shot at the New World, but its forbidding barrier islands and strongly-organized native population distrustful of the colonizers, made the Carolina Province difficult. Sir Walter Raleigh’s first attempt at a permanent British colony, composed of all men, clashed with the native Croatan people, establishing bad blood with their overt aggression; the second (the legendary Lost Colony), including men, women, and children, was neglected for three years due to England’s war with Spain, only to disappear, probably due to the same tensions created by the first settlement. The two ill-fated colonies convinced Britain to try Virginia instead, but the success of colonies in Virginia and Pennsylvania had a positive impact on North Carolina, as settlers from the north gradually spread into the colony searching for space.
For most of its history, North Carolina was an agricultural state primarily made up of family and sustenance farmers, though a cotton and tobacco-growing plantation system based on slave labor grew in the eastern part of the state. Like other Southern states, North Carolina was devastated by the Civil War, and the latter half of the 19th century was often a time of violence, oppression, and poverty. However, North Carolina had something many of the Deep South states did not – a long-standing, well-established education system that gave it the means to adjust to the Industrial Revolution and new economy of the 20th century.
Cotton and tobacco remained central to North Carolina’s economy, and tobacco wealth was critical to the growth of private research universities like Duke University and Wake Forest University. But, more importantly, North Carolina’s natural resources, and the development of railroad and manufacturing technology, helped the state become an industrial leader. Cities grew up around textile, tobacco, and furniture factories. Its many rivers made it possible for North Carolina to establish hydroelectric power and electrify the state much earlier than other Southern states, while modern technology helped the state’s agricultural base to industrialize. As such, North Carolina quickly grew throughout the 20th century. The close proximity of three of the South’s largest research universities – the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and North Carolina State University – gave rise to the Research Triangle, the nation’s first high-tech hub, in the 1950s, and that momentum has never slowed.
Today, Charlotte, NC is the third-largest banking and finance hub in the US (as well as one of the fastest-growing cities), and the Triangle is one of the most prominent technology and medical centers in the nation, with numerous Fortune 500 corporations and world-class hospitals. North Carolina has a public higher education system that stands alongside New York and California in size and quality, from flagship UNC in Chapel Hill, to some of the nation’s most prominent public HBCUs, including North Carolina Central University, Elizabeth City State University, and North Carolina A&T University. North Carolina is home to two of the Southern Ivies, Duke and Wake Forest (which stand alongside institutions like Emory and Vanderbilt as the most elite private research universities in the nation), as well as highly-ranked small liberal arts colleges like Elon University and Davidson College. North Carolina has entered the 21st century as one of the most promising states in the US, with a growing population and growing wealth and influence, and its model colleges and universities deserve a great deal of gratitude.