Here is my list, compiled about 10 years ago of the most important events in 20th Century North Carolina. It is a good time to reassess, but I am sticking with what I wrote back then.
The election of 1900. The white supremacy Democratic Party returned to power and Charles Brantley Aycock became governor. The adoption of a literacy requirement for voting (with a “grandfather clause” to protect illiterate whites) assured the Democrats’ victory, effectively froze most blacks out of North Carolina political life for most of the century, and made us a solid one-party state.
The Wright brothers flight in 1903. Maybe the Wright brothers came from Ohio. But they came here. As a result we define ourselves as “first in-flight.”
The creation of the State Highway Commission in 1921 under “Good Roads” Governor Cameron Morrison.
The establishment of the Duke Endowment in 1924. The philanthropy of James Buchanan Duke assured the national prominence of Duke University and set the pattern for a rich philanthropic tradition in North Carolina.
The textile strikes in Gastonia in 1929.
The publication of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel in 1929.
The 1931 consolidation of the campuses of North Carolina State, Women’s College, and the University of North Carolina under one governing board and president, leading ultimately to the unified administration of all public higher education under the UNC system beginning in 1971.
The founding of the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill in 1931. Later a model for similar institutions in other states, it fostered a tradition of professionalism and integrity for public officials.
The state’s assumption of primary responsibility for the funding of public schools in the early 1930’s.
The development of outdoor drama by Paul Green, beginning with “The Lost Colony” in Manteo in 1937. Thousands of North Carolinians learned their most remembered history lessons in outdoor theatres in places like Manteo, Cherokee, and Boone.
The rise of Billy Graham in 1949. After his successful crusade in Los Angles, North Carolina made Graham its “patron saint.”
The Willis Smith-Frank Graham U.S. Senate race in 1950. Political leaders representing many different traditions cut their teeth and defined their viewpoints and their commitments to participation in public life. Terry Sanford, Jesse Helms, Robert Morgan, I. Beverly Lake, Sr., John Sanders, and many other important figures in North Carolina political life took important roles in this campaign.
The creation of the Community College System in 1957. The January 1958 rout of the Ku Klux Klan by the Lumbee Indians. This event marked the beginning of the end for the Klan as a serious participant in North Carolina public life.
The founding of the Research Triangle Park in about 1959.
The Greensboro sit-ins at Woolworth’s in February 1960.
The election of Governor Terry Sanford in 1960.
The end of the Dixie Classic basketball tournament in 1961.
The 1963 Speaker Ban Law.
The Charlotte busing decision (Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education) upheld by the Supreme Court in 1971.
The 1972 elections. The election of Jesse Helms to the U.S Senate and of Jim Holshouser as the first Republican governor in the 20th Century ended 70 years of almost total Democratic political dominance. But it also began the era of Democrat Jim Hunt, who was elected Lt. Governor.
The 1984 Senate race between Jim Hunt and Jesse Helms.
The 1989 “coup d’etat” led by Joseph Mavretic in the North Carolina House Representatives, ending the speakership of Liston Ramsey.
The selection of Dan Blue as the first African American speaker of the House of Representatives in 1991.
The merger of NationsBank and Bank of America in 1998. Bank of America’s (and, for a time, Wachovia/First Union’s) home offices in Charlotte made the state one of the country’s largest banking centers.