Prohibition in North Carolina: Relics of Prohibition Continue

Prohibition in North Carolina has a long history. The state became the first in the south to enact state-wide prohibition. It was also the first state in the union to enact state prohibition by a direct vote of the electorate. It did so with a resounding vote of 62% in favor.

Thus, North Carolina established its own prohibition years before it became national in 1920. Clearly, the vast majority of North Carolinians wanted prohibition. And they wanted it to work.

Unfortunately, neither state-wide nor National Prohibition reduced the production of moonshine. After the former was established, speakeasies sprang up over the state. They did so “like mushrooms after rain.” A reported $15,000,000 worth of alcoholic beverages came into the state from nearby Richmond alone each year. That’s about $375,000,000 in today’s dollars

Prohibition in North Carolina

Relics remain from Prohibition in North Carolina.

The director of prohibition enforcement for the eastern part of the state was distressed. He reported that “we have more illicit distilleries than any other State in the Union; and the number is increasing.”

Prohibition not only failed to reduce crime, but created it. It not only failed to reduce moonshine, but increased it. It not only failed to increase public morality, but reduced it.

Newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams expressed tar heel sentiments when he wrote:

“Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can’t stop what it’s meant to stop.
We like it.
It’s left a trail of graft and slime,
It don’t prohibit worth a dime,
It’s filled our land with vice and crime.
Nevertheless, we’re for it.”

States were empowered to create constitutional conventions to consider ratifying Repeal.  North Carolinians voted against calling such a convention. They did so by a landslide vote of 293,484 to 120,190. Nationally, the popular vote on Repeal was in the opposite direction. Seventy-four percent favored Repeal. Only 30% opposed it. North Carolina has never ratified Repeal.

After Repeal in 1933, ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control Board) stores were proposed. The proposal was made by a prohibitionist legislator. Enabling legislation was later passed. In North Carolina, distilled spirits can only be sold by ABC government Stores. Even now, some counties don’t have such a store. Prohibition for distilled spirits continues, just as before Repeal in 1933.

North Carolina still operates under the strong influence of prohibition-era attitudes. It’s seen in its dry counties. In its Blue laws restricting the Sunday sales of alcohol. It’s seen in its artificially high alcohol prices.

Vestiges of Prohibition in North Carolina continue.

Learn more about Prohibition in North Carolina

Doak, F.R. Why North Carolina Voted Dry.  Chapel Hill: U North Carolina, 2002.

Primm, G.C. The Story behind the Expose of the Legislative Liquor Scandal in North Carolina.  Shelby, NC: Allied Church League, 1957.

Whitener, D.J. Prohibition in North Carolina, 1715-1945,    Chapel Hill: U North Carolina Press, 1946.