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ten best reasons North Carolina is the best state in the south

by Joe Murphy

The mountains and the Coast I

I went to my mother’s family reunion in Weaverville, outside of Asheville, last weekend. While I was chasing the setting sun over the Great Smoky Mountains on Interstate 40, watching the line between light and dark creep down the valleys and bobbing my head to the beat emitting from the car speakers, I realized that my home state is a cut above the rest of the South (maybe entire nation, but I don’t want to get carried away). I have been fortunate enough to spend time in those very mountains and North Carolina’s pristine coast as long as I can remember. Sure Virginia and South Carolina also have both but North Carolina has Mount Mitchell — the highest point on the East Coast — and the Outer Banks. Our mountains are the birthplace of bluegrass and our coast was home base for history’s greatest pirate, Blackbeard. The combination of the hiking trails and waterfalls in our mountains and the fishing at our beaches can’t be matched by Virginia or the “other” Carolina. North Carolina’s relationship to its neighbors to the North and South is best expressed by the old saying: “The valley of humility between two mountains of conceit.”

History

Cornwallis’ British Army left their battle with Nathanael Greene at the Greensboro courthouse so decimated that they later fell in Yorktown, the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. When the states turned on each other less than a century later, North Carolina was the last state to secede from the union, essentially because we were surrounded. But once North Carolina committed to the war, we sent approximately 125,000 troops — more than any other Confederate state — and they fought valiantly enough for General Lee to famously declare “God bless the Tar Heel boys.”

We squash the (southern) competition

It’s true that Atlanta is the unofficial capitol of the South and Athens is a great college town with a good music scene. But the rest of Georgia loosely resembles an episode of “Squidbillies.” Louisiana is a whole different animal, but outside of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport it’s mostly just swampland and farms. While we don’t have a centralized cultural hub, NC has diverse cultural outposts spread across the state from the Boone to Wilmington. Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and even Greenville all have their own merits and balance out the more rural or pastoral areas in between. Thanks to highways 40 and 85, from the North Carolina Piedmont you can make it to New York, Miami or California without having to get off the highway. North Carolina’s centralized proximity — halfway between New York and Miami and the midpoint between Atlanta and Washington DC — has led to the nickname “The Middle East.” Furthermore North Carolina has the Eugene of the East in Asheville and, as legendary rapper Big Daddy Kane and Durham resident described his adopted home, “Brooklyn in the South.”

Higher education

North Carolina’s 17-institution public university system is the envy of the rest of the South and even nation. Beyond its flagship schools (UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State) it includes stellar historically black colleges such as NC A&T, Winston-Salem State and NC Central; above-average regional universities such as Appalachian State, East Carolina and UNC-Wilmington; and celebrated liberal arts schools like the North Carolina School of the Arts, UNC-Asheville and UNCG. Aside from our public universities, North Carolina is also home to arguably three of the best private Southern universities in Duke, Wake Forest and Davidson.

Basketball

We might even have the whole country beat in this respect. As far as college basketball goes, Kentucky is the only Southern state that even holds a candle to us. Kentucky universities’ (the University of Kentucky and Louisville) have won nine combined NCAA Division I titles compared to North Carolina universities’ (UNC, Duke and NC State) combined total of 11. Furthermore, four of UK’s titles occurred before 1960 (read pre-integration), while only UNC’s undefeated 1957 team won one in that era — and they had to go through three overtimes, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain and Kansas in the championship. The iconic coaching figure of Kentucky basketball is noted segregationist Adolph Rupp, whose allwhite team famously lost to Texas Western in the 1966 final (Disney made a movie about that recently and Rupp played the villain). Meanwhile Dean Smith desegregated ACC and Southern basketball in 1966 by extending a scholarship to New Yorker Charlie Scott. Smith finished his career as Division I’s all-time win leader, surpassing previous record holder Rupp in the process; and if Duke’s current iconic coach doesn’t run out of hair dye or artificial hips in the next year or two, he will surpass Rupp as well. The current coaches of North Carolina’s “Big Four” ACC schools are also far more respectable than the used car salesmen currently running the show in Louisville and Lexington. Beyond the world of college basketball, the amount of professional stars North Carolina has and still produces on a consistent basis matches up with any other state in the country. North Carolina natives that have left their mark in the pros include John Lucas, David Thompson, James Worthy, Sleepy Floyd, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Danny Manning, Rodney Rogers and current ballers Antawn Jamison, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and John Wall. That list doesn’t even include the non-natives who played college ball here such as World B. Free, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, Julius Hodge and Tyler Hansbrough. I’ve got a hundred on an all-star team of North Carolina natives in their prime versus the same from any other state.

Celebrated North Carolinians

Aside from ball players, North Carolinians have made their mark on the world in many other public spheres. Musicians like Doc Watson, Floyd Council, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, James Taylor, Ben Folds, Ryan Adams, 9th Wonder, Warren Haynes, the Avett Brothers, Mac McCaughan and Unknown Hinson. North Carolina writers include the likes of Harriet Jacobs, Thomas Wolfe, O. Henry, Orson Scott Card, Maya Angelou and (cough) Nicholas Sparks.

BarBeque

Everybody nationwide is loyal to their regional barbeque. But it boils down to this: In North Carolina we have the most and easiest access to pork; and we even have two distinctly different regional varieties (of which, I will decline from choosing a preference).

We are trendsetters

As legend has it a couple of moonshine runners with souped-up cars scribbled down the plan for what we now know as NASCAR on a bar napkin. In 1933 Black Mountain College was founded outside of Asheville. Though it closed in 1956, it helped set the template for alternative education on the college level and many of its alumni travelled west and planted seeds for the counterculture movement there. Some of their faculty and alumni, such as Robert Creeley, also produced very notable and influential poetry. On Feb. 1, 1960, four A&T students sat down at the counter of the Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro and sent shock waves through the segregated South and helped kick-start the American Civil Rights Movement.

Exports

Aside from notable and well educated inhabitants, pork, basketball, moonshine, NASCAR, music and culture, North Carolina has also blessed the world with Krispy Kreme, Biscuitville, Bojangles, Cookout, Ham’s, Newports, Camel Lights, Lucky Strikes (remember those?), Pepsi, Cheerwine, Duck Rabbit and Highland Gaelic Ale.

First in Flight

I don’t want to hear it, Ohio. Just because the Wright Brothers were from your state doesn’t mean you can piggyback our claim to being the birthplace of flight. If the climate in your state wasn’t so drab, the first instance of human beings in flight might have occurred in your state — and maybe LeBron James wouldn’t have left.

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