More than 4,000 people, some wearing fur coats to ward off the cold, gathered in downtown Raleigh to witness the historic inauguration. Easley is the first baby boomer and practicing Roman Catholic to serve as governor. He is also the first governor in more than 25 years not named James.
Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, also sworn in Saturday, is the state's first female lieutenant governor.
The inauguration was billed as One North Carolina -- a theme repeated throughout Easley's inaugural address.
"We must remember that North Carolina is more than a collection of regions and people," he said. "We are one state, one people, one family, bound by a common concern for each other."
Easley said economic growth, which has caused some portions of the state to prosper and others to stagnate, is dividing the state.
"Over the past century, our state has prospered," he said. "But our prosperity, unfortunately, has been selective. Many communities have strong and robust economies, while others languish."
Easley also said the lack of Internet access is isolating rural regions.
"Just as the past generation had the courage to reach across the racial divide to bring all people together for morality and progress, this generation must reach across the digital divide to join together all communities in a stronger statewide economy," he said.
But Easley, as he noted in his address, faces several challenges, including a $486 million budget deficit and a House with only a four-seat Democratic majority.