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From Strife to Strides: N.C. Minorities Advance

A century ago, a person requiring medical attention would have been shocked to see a Hispanic doctor walk into the room.

A hundred years ago, an American Indian wouldn't have received the opportunity to have a voice in county government.

A hundred years ago, the sight of a nonwhite student at UNC-Chapel Hill might have sparked protests -- perhaps even violence.

But a lot can change after 100 years.

Interracial couples no longer automatically draw looks of surprise or derisive comments from others.

Ethnic groups at UNC-system schools routinely sponsor events to promote ethnic diversity and ethnic cultures.

The 2000 U.S. Census shows that North Carolina's minority population is booming.

But have the racial attitudes in the state kept pace?

In the Shadow of Segregation

The 2000 U.S. Census results show that whites still make up a clear majority of the state's population -- 72.1 percent. Blacks are still the second largest group in the state, with 21.6 percent of the population. Hispanics now make up 4.7 percent, Native Americans 1.2 percent and Asians 1.4 percent of the state's residents.

N.C. demographer William Tillman said the census results show that despite a large increase in the Hispanic population over the past decade, blacks remain the largest minority in the state.

"There hasn't been a huge shift in the dominant minority -- it's still blacks," he said. "In terms of sheer numbers of minorities, blacks are still dominant."

But M. Trent Carmon, president of the Raleigh-Apex branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said race relations in North Carolina have not changed much in his lifetime, despite blacks' increased role in government.

"It's the same as it's been since I've been here, and I was born here," he said. "To be quite honest, you may not see the same sheets and hoods, but you have those same people with those same philosophies."

Carmon said problems facing blacks today include racial profiling and bias in the court system.

But Rep. Pryor Gibson, D-Anson, said he thinks race relations in North Carolina have improved exponentially since segregation.

Gibson cited Anson County as a success story for race relations within the state. He attributed the success to the fact that Anson County is 49.5 percent white and 48.6 percent black, yet residents see each other as equal.

"We don't consider either to be the majority," he said.

"In other counties where blacks make up only 20 percent, there is a struggle for them to get equal representation. I think the county is one of the biggest success stories in the state. We were forced to get along or our resources would have been cut in half."

Gibson said that rather than be divided along racial lines, Anson County is united because most of its residents are poor.

He said problems with resource allocation typically affect areas on a lower economic scale, which tend to be more populated.

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"(In Anson County), whites, blacks, Latinos -- we're all poor," he said. "None of the problems come from racial strife."

A Rising Minority

The Hispanic population in North Carolina experienced the most dramatic increase in the last decade, according to census results. Hispanics went from constituting 1.2 percent of the state's total population in 1990 to 4.7 percent in 2000.

Andrea Bazan-Manson, executive director of El Pueblo, a nonprofit Hispanic advocacy organization, said though Latinos have resided in North Carolina for centuries, their numbers have increased dramatically in the last decade.

"The (Hispanic) growth has been in the last seven years," she said. "(The immigrants) are mostly from Mexico, but I think all Latin American countries are represented."

Bazan-Manson said Hispanics residing in North Carolina during segregation experienced similar problems to those of blacks but added that there was very little activism in the community.

But despite increasing the state's diversity, the large Hispanic community brings with it a new set of issues to deal with.

Experts agree that the increase will force state officials to examine various problems, including language barriers and receiving equal access to public services, such as health care.

Bazan-Manson said she thinks North Carolina's government is doing a fairly good job dealing with the special needs of Hispanics. She cited the Department of Public Instruction as being particularly helpful. "I think certain sectors (of the government) are doing a good job," she said. "Some, like public health, had to. The Department of Public Instruction has worked with the growing population."

Bazan-Manson also emphasized the Hispanic community's progress in asserting its presence in North Carolina. She said the group is becoming more a part of the state, an essential aspect of maintaining diversity. "I just think they make it a richer, more global state."

Residents Since the Beginning

One constant in North Carolina since colonial times is its native population.

American Indians have always been an important part of the state's history. The two largest tribes in the state are the Lumbees and the Cherokee.

In recent years these tribes become more important to the state economically. For instance, Harrah's Cherokee Casino in Cherokee provides a substantial amount of revenue for the area and has created many jobs.

Stanley Knick, director of the Native American Resource Center at UNC-Pembroke, said American Indians are essential to North Carolina.

But Knick said they have been discriminated against in the past and still have a ways to go to gain total equality.

"Enormous strides have been heard at the state level," he said. "But as individuals they have been confronted with prejudices."

Knick cited the N.C. Bureau of Indian Affairs as evidence that North Carolina is concerned about its native residents and is dedicated to protecting them.

But he added that American Indians still experience discrimination. "They are not treated as good, by any standard."

An Economic Foundation

North Carolina boasts a wide variety of jobs. From the tobacco and hog farms in the east to the high-tech banking and commercials centers in Charlotte and the Research Triangle, the state is quickly becoming an integral part of the nation's economy.

The diversity of workers, from those willing to take low-paying factory jobs to highly educated professionals, is in large part a result of the racial mix of the state.

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