United States — April 1, 2012 10:15 am

What It Means To Be a Tar Heel


On May 8, voters in North Carolina will consider whether to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Numerous articles have already commented on why North Carolinians should unequivocally reject this anti-gay amendment. It has been rightly noted that the amendment will harm business in the state, that it will harm families, and that it threatens to obliterate the few legal protections several localities currently afford gay people. All these concerns are real, and educated voters should accord them serious thought before entering the voting booth. There is one other reason, however, why voters should reject Amendment 1: voting for this measure is incompatible with being a Tar Heel.

North Carolina has long been regarded as the “Tar Heel State” and its residents self-identify as “Tar Heels.” But what does it mean to be a Tar Heel? Although there is no clear historical account of the origins of the word, many etymological studies trace its genesis to the Civil War. During this time, legend has it that “Tar Heel” surfaced throughout the South as a term of ridicule for North Carolinians. Why? Because North Carolina was the last state to secede from the union. In other words, North Carolinians moved toward secession dragging their feet as if they had tar on their heels. This hesitancy attracted the ire of other southern states, which then began to refer to North Carolina as “the reluctant state” or “the tar heel state.”

For all its foot-dragging, however, North Carolina still succumbed to secessionist fervor. And the fact that it succumbed last does little to absolve the state from its participation in the Confederacy. Although North Carolina has made much progress with race relations today, the history books will forever record a time when this was not so. Nothing can be done to erase that fact, but North Carolinians can at least show they have learned something from this tragic past.

Today, North Carolina finds itself in a predicament similar to the one it faced in 1861. Every state in the South has voted to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, and the ole Tar Heel State finds itself, yet again, alone and the object of ridicule of its southern neighbors. The question now is, what choice will North Carolina make this time around? On May 8, North Carolinians will answer that question for themselves when they vote on Amendment 1. As they cast their votes, I pray they remember the origins of their nickname.

If North Carolinians are to live up to that nickname today, not only do we need to hesitate in joining the rest of the South in constitutionally banning same-sex marriage, we also need to reject the proposition flat-out. United as Tar Heels, we must hold the line and stand firm for the equal worth and dignity of all our citizens.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joshua-Powell/100001262493699 Joshua Powell

    Tar Heel comes from a battle that took place in the revolutionary war where North Carolinians poured Tar in a river to stop the English and fired upon them when they became stuck and slowed down. EVERYONE with any history of this state knows that so for a article writer to not know this means your a MORON and have no sense of history and shouldn’t be talking about it. Sad to see that you want to slam North Carolina for our laws when we think most people who slam us are also slamming their constitution we make OUR OWN LAWS here read your 10th amendment and shut up. If you don’t like it don’t come here. I-95 runs north and south and I-40 runs west you don’t have to live here. Also, the majority of those who did end up voting for the amendment were BLACK evangelicals who believe the same as most people (70 percent to be exact) in North Carolina. I would recommend before starting a article on history you read up on it first stop writing and do something else with less need for facts.

  • Eric Hamlett

    This article surprised me in both its scope and prediction as the vote turned NC into yet another state that does not realize US Constitutional 1st amendment rights for ALL its citizens. Being a Tar Heel myself I find it humorous that we also are the Shag dancing state, which sets up a perfect irony. We as Tar heels were indeed reluctant to join the “Plantation proprietor’s” Civil war as too were many of the Upper south states, and NC was less infected with the ideology of slavery while our sister state SC was the hub. Our capital erected a Large Shameful Memorial to our reluctance (Kinda Saying how much we supported them = Dissappointing) which I feel should be now dedicated to the poor LGBT NC residents who have temporarily lost the first of many fights to come in NC.

    The Irony completes the circle in that we as “Tar heels” can Shag Dance ourselves to new ideas and briliant realities where we can then put that fresh tar back down and reluctantly give again. Its my hope that newest NC voters will dance to the highest vision of the US 1st amendment in the future. I appreciate you, Ivel Posada, and wish every citizen of the State of NC could have read your article just before voting. We all lost on May 8th, but do not despair becuase NC will eventually rise to its calling as the newest voters rise and vindicate their emergent power.

    To Clarify. We have temporary NC Amendment 1 which is in conflict with our
    US Constitution FIRST Amendment (also Amendment one) of which I
    referred to above with highest expectations! The First Amendment
    (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution
    strictly prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of
    religion. NC’s “temporary” Amendment 1 was without any doubt based on
    religious beliefs (My Father told me so himself based on propaganda he
    heard at his church and believed). This truth is exactly why NC
    Amendment One will never last. It is a violation.

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