Will a bill proposed in the North Carolina General Assembly to specify “The Old North State” as the official state nickname gain any traction?
North Carolina generally has two surviving nicknames that are regularly used – “The Old North State” and “The Tar Heel State.”
The older of the two is “The Old North State,” and this term is used in both the official state song and the official state toast. Could it be an open-and-shut case? You decide.
In 2015, Our State magazine featured an essay by Katie Quine. She framed the nickname question as a matter of love.
“When I think about my love for this state, my mind always trails to Charles Kuralt’s speech in 1993,” given at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to celebrate the institution’s 200th commencement ceremony.
Quine commented: “His entire cadence is beautiful, but it’s his opening 13 words that resound deepest within my heart, ‘What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?’”
Kuralt continued: “It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. Or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming…our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the people.”
Quine opined: “I’d like to believe his words could be applied more generally to North Carolina as a whole.”
“Truly, what binds us to this place of the pine? What makes us want to call North Carolina home? In and of itself, tar isn’t beautiful, and it isn’t nice, but those who have it forever stuck to their heels sure are,” Quine wrote.
A compilation of accolades from various sources says being a Tar Heel embodies “discipline, courage, determination, gallantry, honor and commendation.”
Dr. Bill Ferris, a history professor at UNC-CH, said a modern-day interpretation of Tar Heel “is associated with being grounded and anchored in a powerful way to the land.”
That surely was the case with Charles Kuralt. He was born in Wilmington in 1934 and studied journalism at UNC-CH where he was editor of The Daily Tar Heel. Kuralt’s first professional job was with The Charlotte News, where he wrote an award-winning column called “Charles Kuralt’s People.” In 1957, at age 23, he became the youngest correspondent ever hired by CBS News.
He later introduced a good-news segment on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Called “On the Road,” the feature ran for more than 20 years. During that time, Kuralt and his crew wore out six campers, crisscrossing the country’s back roads and telling stories about ordinary Americans. He later anchored CBS News Sunday Morning before retiring in 1994.
Kuralt never lost touch with North Carolina. He wrote about the state in his book “North Carolina Is My Home,” and some of his best days were spent tucked away atop Grandfather Mountain in a two-room cabin owned by his dear friend Hugh Morton.
Morton’s getaway was known as Anvil Rock. The cabin “features a rough-hewn wooden ceiling, flagstone floor and a view of Linville Peak,” wrote Leigh Ann Henion for Our State. “It takes its name from the top-heavy boulder that makes up its far wall. In summer, the rock exudes coolness. In winter, it seeps warmth. Here, Charles Kuralt became grounded by stone and solitude.”
From this perch, Kurault would venture down into the nooks and crannies of western North Carolina’s mountains to visit with “the storytellers, moonshiners and wood-carvers. He heard from blacksmiths and wildcrafters. He scouted the northwest corner of the state for stories as he had once scoured the country,” Henion said. “Each evening, he returned to Anvil Rock to pen all he had heard.”
Kuralt loved his university. He once observed: “And so, in concentric circles, as if from a pebble tossed from a pool, the influence of the University of North Carolina moves outward to the farthest corners of our state, and far beyond its boundaries.”
But, dagnabbit, he was the most in love with the people of North Carolina! His concluding remarks to his audience at that 1993 address, were:
“Care about one another…my warmest wish for you is to be sensitive enough to feel supreme tenderness toward others, and that you be strong enough to show it. That is a commandment, by the way, and not from me. I believe it is also the highest expression of civilization.”
The General Assembly members…as well as all the rest of us…should take those 50 closing words to heart.