The North Carolina General Assembly can seem like a stone wall standing in the way of any kind of progress in the state. Remarkably homogeneous and stubborn, the majority Republican caucus of the state legislature will not tolerate improvements in the social-welfare categories that define a state’s societal health. But protruding from this depressing landscape are cities and towns where a progressive mood may be seeding the next era in North Carolina politics.
This wave of progress dates to the early 2010’s, when Wake County, long home to a suburban Republicanism driven by northern transplants, ejected its rabble-rousing conservative school board. The progressive surge swelled further with Charlotte’s famous pro-LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance, which enraged the dead-enders in the state legislature who went on to disgrace the state with their HB2 anti-LGBTQ law. But not until the last year has urban liberalism truly come into its own in the Tar Heel state.
Asheville, often seen as the San Francisco of the South and a jewel in the crown of the state, announced that it would provide reparations to Black residents impacted by the legacy of slavery. I wrote at the time that Asheville was taking the best, community-based approach to this moral imperative. The city brought a rare spurt of positive national publicity to the state and inspired Orange County, NC to pass a resolution laying the groundwork for reparations in their own jurisdiction. Reflecting a long history of biracial politics in the state that has contended with North Carolina’s entrenched racism, Asheville and Orange are paving the way for a long-overdue racial reckoning.
Yesterday, Orange County again arose to the fore of social progress. The town of Hillsborough became the first locality in the state since the passage of HB142, the partial repeal of HB2 that passed under threat of losing additional sporting events in 2017, to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. Fellow Orange County towns Carrboro and Chapel Hill are slated to follow Hillsborough’s lead. Hillsborough exhibited moral courage vindicating the humanity of its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents while knowing that social conservatives in the legislature might pounce on them for this act of tolerance.
Similar progressive currents are coursing through most cities and towns in North Carolina. Charlotte, Raleigh and the other large cities continue to develop into diverse metropolitan centers with growing knowledge industries. Raleigh has become so Democratic that Republicans did not even field a candidate for mayor in 2019. Not that urban North Carolina has become an Edenic haven for the marginalized; racial violence and even right-wing terrorism have occurred in these places in recent memory. That said, despite a conservative hegemony in state government that appears likely to persist until at least later in the decade, swathes of North Carolina have chosen a different course. Let’s the hope it’s a harbinger of things to come.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.