North Carolina Stories of Resistance

In the 1700s, black people escaping enslavement joined Native Americans and white former indentured servants to build independent communities deep in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina, far from the reach of the colonial and state authorities.

In 1765, residents of the small town and farms of the North Carolina Piedmont formed the Regulator movement to oppose corrupt coastal elites of the colonial government, demanding fair representation and an end to extreme taxation and extortion.

In 1857, Abraham Galloway escaped enslavement in Southport, fleeing to freedom to Philadelphia. He would return to North Carolina during the Civil War as a spy for the Union, organizing recently freed Black residents, serving in the North Carolina state senate and advocating for equal rights and universal suffrage at the start of Reconstruction.

In the 1890s, the Fusion movement brought together the Populist Party and the Republican Party in powerful coalition of working people in North Carolina, uniting Blacks and Whites in a multi-racial alliance that took over the highest levels of state government.

In 1894, the North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association was formed in Asheville, followed by the North Carolina Equal Suffrage League in 1913 in Charlotte. In 1920, Lillian Exum Clement of Asheville became the first woman elected to the North Carolina legislature.

In 1934, tens of thousands of textile workers in small towns and cities all across North Carolina launched the largest strike in the state’s history, demanding higher wages, a 40 hour work week and better working conditions.

In 1958, the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County faced down intimidation and cross burnings from the Ku Klux Klan, turning out over 500 tribal members to rout a nighttime Klan rally in a public display of strength – part of a larger struggle for dignity and public recognition that continues to this day.

In 1960, students at NC A&T and Bennett College in Greensboro sparked a wave of sit-ins across the South, demanding equal treatment in businesses and public facilities. Later that year, the student sit-in movement would meet in at Shaw University in Raleigh to form the civil rights group SNCC under the guided leadership of North Carolinian Ella Baker.

In 1982, the modern environmental justice movement was born in Warren County as residents of the rural county staged a six week protest opposing the dumping of PCBs in their community, lying down on state roads to prevent the arrival of 10,000 truckloads of contaminated soil.

In 1986, the first North Carolina Pride parade was held in Durham. Despite efforts from conservatives to stop the parade – including an unsuccessful recall attempt of Durham’s mayor – the event has continued every year for the past 30 years.

In 2004, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee concluded its five year boycott of the Mount Olive Pickle Company, winning a bargaining agreement that improved pay and conditions for agricultural workers. Four years later, workers at the Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel won a 15 year battle for unionization, leading to a new contract with better pay and conditions.

In 2006, Siler City -- a town that had previously held Klan rallies -- hosted 4,000 pro-immigrant protesters as North Carolina joined dozens of other states in organizing “Day Without Immigrants” marches. These marches were a response to Congress as it considered a harsh anti-immigrant bill (the Sensenbrenner bill) which would make it a felony for immigrants to be in the country without legal status.

In 2013, the Moral Mondays, fusion coalition movement led the largest mass civil disobedience in the South in over a generation, as almost 1,000 people were arrested in opposition to the extreme right-wing policies enacted by the NC legislature.