The Decades Series

Since 2018, author Philip Gerard has been exploring our history in Our State’s Decades Series. Discover the moments in time that transformed North Carolina.


1980s | 1970s | 1960s | 1950s | 1940s | About the Author


1980s

The Decade of Local Heroes

After a period of radical change, North Carolinians enter the 1980s with renewed energy and optimism. The time is right for men and women of passion and talent to step up and make their mark on our state.

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A Judge of Fine Character

From his childhood on a farm in Richmond County to his barrier-breaking achievements on the North Carolina Supreme Court, Henry Frye builds his life and career on a foundation of hard work and integrity.

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Michael Jordan Changes the Game

Before he was the greatest of all time, Michael Jordan was an athletic kid from Wilmington. In 1981, he heads to Chapel Hill to hone the skills and competitive spirit that launch him to superstardom.

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Pioneers of the Piedmont

When two scientists from Research Triangle Park win a Nobel Prize, their victory represents the fulfillment of the park’s original mission: to make world-class science part of North Carolina’s DNA.

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1970s

The Decade of Disruption

Across the globe from Vietnam, effects of the war reverberate through the state, where social and political perspectives are shifting quickly and dramatically.

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A Leader for Peace

As the Vietnam War roils campuses across the country, students at NC State University seek peace, unity, and answers to difficult questions.

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The Wilmington 10

Following an incident at a local high school, long-simmering racial tensions boil over in Wilmington, culminating in the wrongful conviction of 10 activists.

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Room to Roam

In Asheboro, the rolling piedmont starts to look like a slice of Africa as a new state-supported zoo aims to teach the value of conservation — and give its animals space to be themselves.

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A Political Sea Change

The election of two young politicians to state’s top offices — including the first republican governor in generations — signals new ideas on the horizon.

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Managing Our Treasured Coast

As developers discover North Carolina’s beautiful shorelines and beachfront communities, lawmakers make a plan to protect their splendor for generations to come.

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Lifting Native Voices

A new commission of Indian affairs ensures representation for North Carolina’s indigenous population. In politics, journalism, the arts, and more, the state’s original residents make strides and speak out.

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Cradle of Music

At Cat’s Cradle, a new music venue in the college town of Chapel Hill, a lively arts scene flourishes, drawing national acts and nurturing the careers of countless local musicians.

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Fatal Distraction

On September 11, 1974, Eastern Air Lines Flight 212 goes down near Charlotte, the crash — one of the worst in state history — initiates lasting changes to the rules surrounding takeoffs and landings.

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The Modern Pioneers

For environmentalists and “Back to the Land” homesteaders seeking a new way of life, a magazine published in Hendersonville guides that way.

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A Seat on the Bench

From her roots in Reidsville, Susie Sharp blazes a trail to the North Carolina Supreme Court, becoming the first female chief justice in state history.

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The Heart of Soul City

In Warren County, civil rights leader Floyd McKissick lays the foundation for a community built on equality — and although it fails to materialize, his core values live on.

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1960s

A Dynamic Decade

Momentum has been building, and by the early 1960s, the payoff is clear: Now in the national spotlight, North Carolina enters an era of action and activism.

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The Great Blizzard of 1960

The decade blows in with a series of winter storms that threaten to incapacitate the High Country. But residents are resilient — and the rest of the state mobilizes to help.

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The Full-Court Press

In 1969, North Carolina bounds onto the national court: Fans across the Piedmont rally to support the state’s first pro basketball team, the Carolina Cougars.

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Silence Speaks Volumes

As the nation mourns the loss of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., college students in Durham take action on campus.

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Close Call over Wayne County

On a quiet night in 1961, a plane from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base accidentally releases two thermonuclear bombs near Goldsboro. Only later do North Carolinians learn how close they came to the brink of disaster.

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Keeping Cape Lookout

By 1965, the diamond-patterned lighthouse has helped keep seafarers safe for more than a century. Now, a new kind of coastal protection takes shape for the pristine stretch of the Outer Banks.

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The State of Literature

In the 1960s, a renewed focus on culture and education brings a burst of energy to the state’s literary scene: Writers sing North Carolina’s praises in poetry and prose.

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Fast Cars & Outlaw Heroes

Thanks to the grit of its drivers and the thrill of its events, the sport started by moonshiners shifts into high gear. Born on the dirt tracks of the North Carolina Piedmont, stock car racing becomes a national pastime.

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The Class Acts

In the 1960s, with the expansion of the Consolidated University of North Carolina and the state’s community college system, more North Carolinians than ever head to college classrooms.

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The Music of Unity

Although slow to desegregate, one college shifts racial sentiments on campus not with court orders or violence — but through the power of music.

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In the Spirit of Service

The Cherokee Boys Club transforms the lives of its members — and the community — with help from its manager. Although not a Cherokee by blood, his devotion earns him honorary status in the tribe.

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Crossing Into the Future

On the cusp of a new decade, the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is completed in Wilmington. The modern bridge is an icon of the fast-growing city, a connection to the rest of the state, and a promise of big things to come.

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1950s

The Decade in Motion

By 1950, The war that defined the previous decade is just a painful memory. The boys have long since come home, and people are moving fast and optimistically toward a bright future.

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A Shared Rhythm

The sound of change is in the air along the North Carolina Coast: The lively music coming out of a black resort community called Seabreeze attracts white audiences eager for something new.

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At the Drive-In

After the war, North Carolinians hit the road on gasoline that’s newly cheap and plentiful. Sleek cars in a kaleidoscope of colors carry families to drive-in theaters and restaurants, where they watch and dine under the stars.

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Piedmont Takes Flight

As commercial aviation captures the public’s imagination, conditions are just right for a North Carolina airline — born and bred in Winston-Salem — to take off.

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Elegy For an Iron Horse

Amid the rise of autos and airplanes, a Wilmington-based railroad company struggles to hold on, supported by passionate advocates until the last passenger train leaves the station.

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Justice in Black & White

As the racism of the Jim Crow era comes to a head, the push for equality gains momentum. In North Carolina and across the South, the seeds of the civil rights movement take root.

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UNC On the Air

The state’s first educational TV station delivers wisdom over the airwaves, from the classroom to viewers’ living rooms.

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Long Live the Lumbee

The Native Americans of Robeson County are strong and proud, but their history is marked by the struggle to overcome bias. In the 1950s, a watershed moment brings national attention to the Lumbee Tribe.

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A Man & His Mountain

One of our state’s most magnificent treasures was in danger of being overdeveloped. Instead, with a photographer’s passion for natural beauty, Grandfather Mountain’s new owner opens it to all.

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The Shape of Things to Come

Three universities, dozens of movers and shakers, one singular vision: Research Triangle Park charts a new course for North Carolina, proving that a simple idea can become a grand reality.

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The Art of the Impossible

North Carolina’s investment in a public art collection opens minds, enriches the lives of citizens, and creates a home for the state’s cultural aspirations.

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The Squire of Haw River

How a dairy farmer from Alamance County ascended the political ladder to become governor, then senator — never forgetting his rural roots along the way.

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1940s

The Decade of Transformation

North Carolina began the 1940s as a mainly rural, isolated state hit hard by the Great Depression. But by the end of the decade, it was a different kind of state: one we recognize as our home.

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The Liberty Armada

When America went to war in 1941, the Navy turned to Wilmington to provide ships. The city’s response helped secure victory for the Allies and left a lasting mark on the North Carolina coast.

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The Soundtrack of the Decade

In the 1940s, traditional mountain music gives rise to bluegrass, jazz spreads nationwide, and three North Carolina natives make their mark on American music.

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The Home of the Airborne

After the Great War, the army planned to mothball a Sandhills airfield. But when the United States is pulled into another conflict, the base is reborn with a new purpose and a new name: Fort Bragg.

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The Deluge of 1940

Mountain communities bear the brunt of the decade’s most deadly Atlantic storm — forever changing our western landscape.

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Land of Blue Smoke

With the creation of the Qualla Boundary comes conflict — between two men determined to lead the Eastern band of Cherokee and within the tribe itself.

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Field of Dreams

At a rural crossroads in Halifax County, black farmers chart a new destiny for their families through the Tillery resettlement program.

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The Miracle of Hickory

When polio strikes children in the Piedmont, doctors, nurses, and volunteers rise to the occasion to build an emergency quarantine hospital.

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A Mighty Storm

A late summer hurricane slams the Outer Banks, leaving a path of destruction like nothing North Carolina’s coast has ever seen before.

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Workers Unite

A group of black women in Winston-Salem takes a stand to demand better wages and safer working conditions. The movement they start grows into a short-lived, but effective, labor union.

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Learning, the Black Mountain Way

An experiment with innovative teachers and a nontraditional curriculum yields a controversial educational experience.

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A Man For His Time

North Carolina’s wartime governor takes office with a desire to help the state he loves.

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The Devil Dogs Find a Home

As war tensions ratchet up, the Marine Corps needs a training ground on the East Coast, and the military finds what it’s looking for near Jacksonville.

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Philip Gerard

Philip Gerard is the author of 13 books, including The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina. Gerard was the author of Our State’s Civil War series. He currently teaches in the department of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He received the 2019 North Carolina Award for Literature.