North Carolina emerged from Reconstruction a new state in a “New South.” But what would that New South look like? Some North Carolinians wanted to make it as much like the old one as possible, while some looked to the North for a model. Others hoped for something entirely new.
North Carolina had the right combination of resources for industry, and factories now processed tobacco, cotton, and timber into finished goods before shipping them out of the state. Cities grew with industry and the money it brought. With cities and money came a new consumer culture, new personal freedom, and new opportunities for women. But factory work meant long hours for low pay in difficult and dangerous conditions, with no protection from labor laws or unions.
Those who stayed on the farm had access to new technologies, new urban markets for their products, and new consumer goods. But they also faced new economic pressures that made it more difficult for them to keep their land. Many former slaves and poorer whites who could not buy land became sharecroppers or tenant farmers, trapped by debt and never managing to get ahead. Farmers began to organize to protest some of these changes, especially what they saw as the unfair privileges given to industrialists. In the 1890s their movement became political, and they joined the new Populist Party.
Many African Americans were able to take advantage of the opportunities of this New South. They, more than whites, moved to towns, and they enthusiastically sent their children to school — even to college, at the state’s new “colored normal schools.” They volunteered for service in time of war, they served in state government, and a few, even after Reconstruction, served in Congress. But by the end of the century, conservatives had re-established white supremacy, effectively preventing blacks from voting and even, in one North Carolina city, violently overthrowing a mixed-race government and killing dozens if not hundreds of black citizens. Slavery was gone, but equality would be a long time coming.
A note about sources
Some of the primary sources in this section of the digital textbook address race directly, and several include racist language and demeaning stereotypes. These documents are included to provide an accurate picture of the past. In all cases, the “As you read” section in the sidebar will provide background and guidance to help you learn from them.
As in the rest of this digital textbook, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the experiences of various people firsthand, through primary sources. For this period we have more detailed information from the U.S. Census than before, and we have the first extensive oral histories, so you can actually listen to people who grew up in this time tell their stories. We’ve also included video of historical reenactors to bring aspects of the late nineteenth century to life. From these raw materials and background readings, you’ll answer questions like these:
- How did farming change after the Civil War, and how did farmers adapt?
- Why did North Carolina become the home to so much industry?
- What were the experiences of factory workers?
- What was education like, and what were the experiences of students?
- What was life like in the “Gilded Age”? How did North Carolinians participate (and not participate) in the new wealth and culture of the time?
- How did North Carolinians participate in American expansion and war?
- How did the political landscape of the state change after Reconstruction, and how did North Carolinians respond politically to their new situations?
- What was the Wilmington Race Riot? Why did it occur, and what was its impact?