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June 15th, 2017:

Meet Your North Carolina State Symbols!

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Did you know that North Carolina has 56 state symbols and official adoptions?  Yes! And — finally — the state symbol is getting its day!  On Saturday June 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., North Carolina’s state symbols will be featured at a special event at the Capitol: “Meet Your State Symbols.”  The event will take place on the grounds of the Capitol building in Raleigh.  The GHL will be on hand with a ‘pop-up’ state symbol library featuring information and fun activities to help folks learn about the state’s heritage and history.  You can even vote for your favorite and be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter to find out the winner!

Why does North Carolina have state symbols?

Every year, thousands of school kids across the state work on projects to learn about the state’s symbols.  They have lots of questions, like: what are state symbols, anyway? why is milk the State Beverage and not Pepsi or Cheerwine?  why is the sweet potato the state vegetable?  Kids and adults alike ask questions like “the state has a Livermush Festival?!”

“Greetings from North Carolina,” postcard ca. 1930s, showing the goldenrod as the state flower. From North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.

How did all of these adoptions come into being?  “Symbols” (like the flag and Great Seal) and other “official adoptions” are created by the North Carolina General Assembly. The General Assembly develops legislation (a bill) with language declaring a particular thing as the “official state (fill in the blank)”.  The bill is ratified by the General Assembly and is then signed into law by the Governor. The adoption of each state symbol is associated with a particular piece of legislation enumerated in the North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 145: State Symbols and Other Official Adoptions.

We often think of all of these adoptions as “state symbols” — like the flag, colors, Great Seal, bird, etc. — but the range of adoptions is really much more broad. Since the General Assembly adopted its first “symbol” in 1885 with legislation recognizing the official State Flag, it has adopted more representations of the state’s heritage and culture, from the State Dog to the State Marsupial to the State Reptile and the State Christmas Tree.  Some symbols are emblems or iconic representations of the state’s history and culture, such as the flag or the Great Seal.  Others represent the state’s unique natural heritage, such as the Cardinal and the Venus Fly Trap. Others, like the sweet potato, represent something that has been vital to sustaining the people or the economy. In recent years, the General Assembly has also adopted a number of festivals or events that are examples of the historical folk life and cultural heritage of the state’s communities and counties.

The state’s newest adoption came during the 2016 session when the General Assembly voted to adopt the Town of Warsaw (Duplin County) Veterans Day Parade as the State Veterans Day Parade (S.B. 160). The bill was signed into law by the Governor of North Carolina on June 24, 2016.  The adoption recognized the long history of the town’s parade, which dates back to their 1921 commemoration of Armistice Day.  The parade is believed to be the oldest, annual commemoration in the nation of what is now Veterans Day.

Does the General Assembly ever consider a symbol that it doesn’t adopt?

Sometimes bills are introduced for new adoptions, but they never make it through the legislative process. During the 2015-2016 legislative sessions two bills met this fate. On January 26, 2015, a bill was introduced for the adoption of the Old Fort Gold Festival, in McDowell County, as the official Gold Festival of North Carolina.  The festival has been celebrated during the first weekend in June since 2003.  And on March 4, 2015, a bill was introduced to name the Bobcat as the official State Cat. Fourth-graders at Benvenue Elementary School in Nash County wrote to their state legislator to recommend that the General Assembly adopt an official state cat to complement the state dog, the Plott Hound. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Bobbie Richardson, a Nash County Democrat. The General Assembly concluded the legislative session in 2015 without taking up either legislation for ratification.

Editorial, the Wilmington Evening Dispatch, January 29, 1912.

Editorial, the Wilmington Evening Dispatch, January 29, 1912.

Have people ever believed something to be a state symbol but it wasn’t “official”?

There are also examples of things being considered state symbols by virtue of popular understanding, but not by official legislative recognition. Take the state flower.

For a long time, the daisy was popularly believed to be the state’s flower. In the July 1917 issue of National Geographic, the daisy was listed as the state flower by “common consent.”  But this was unofficial.  In fact, adoption of state symbols, emblems, and mottos is often taken historically as a matter of pride and patriotism.  On January 29, 1912, a resident of Wilmington submitted an editorial to the Evening Dispatch lamenting the state’s failure to adopt a flower, while the majority of states had them (see image).

In 1921 the General Assembly did consider adoption of the ox eye daisy but failed to pass a resolution or bill.  By the 1930s, many folk also considered the goldenrod to be the state flower. It appeared on North Carolina themed postcards of the decade, titled as the state flower (see image).  And an article in the Burlington Daily Times News, April 1, 1933, mentions an “argument” between two journalists (Louis Graves of the Chapel Hill Weekly and Julian Miller of the Charlotte Observer) regarding the state flower. Apparently, Graves believed it to be the ox eye daisy, while Miller insisted on the goldenrod. In fact, neither was correct! At last in 1941 the General Assembly put the matter to rest, with the dogwood being firmly ensconced in the states official imagery, beating out the daisy, goldenrod, azalea, laurel, and others.

Are you ready to become a North Carolina State Symbol expert or just want to learn more about this unique aspect of the state’s history?

Check out these resources:

NCpedia:

State Symbols & Official Adoptions: ncpedia.org/symbols
North Carolina State Symbols Interactive Timeline: ncpedia.org/north-carolina-history-timeline-state-symbols
North Carolina State Symbols & Official Adoptions links to legislation: ncpedia.org/north-carolina-state-symbols-general-statutes

NC General Assembly, Laws of the State of NC Chapter 145 (State Symbols & Official Adoptions): http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/statutes/StatutesTOC.pl?Chapter=0145

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library

This blog is a service of the State Library of North Carolina, part of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Blog comments and posts may be subject to Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties.