The old State House chamber in downtown Raleigh hasn’t been used for lawmaking, with rare exception, since the Legislative Building on Jones Street opened in 1963. But the Greek Revival-style Capitol completed in 1840 still has powerful symbolic value as a venue to mark anniversaries of significant events that happened there.
So it was on Friday, when Chief Justice Mark Martin and other state officials gathered in the State Capitol to commemorate the 150th anniversary of North Carolina’s ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which officially ended slavery. North Carolina had the not-so-glorious distinction of being the next-to-last state to approve it.
The Civil War had taken a toll in lives and left residual bitterness and anger toward a restored nation. But on Dec. 4, 1865, the state did get on board with the 13th Amendment. There would follow, unfortunately, after Reconstruction further suppression of black North Carolinians, with some denied the right to vote or property rights or voting rights.
Martin chose to talk about how, after ratification, African-Americans were elected to the legislature. In a stain on North Carolina history, the rapid political ascent of blacks triggered a white supremacist movement supported by North Carolina leaders, including the founder of this newspaper, Josephus Daniels. The 13th Amendment, while representing the rule of law, did not cure the resentments and prejudices of the human heart. Though progress has been made, the campaign to win that battle continues still.