[Ads-l] On the future of "Tar Heels"

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 12 17:44:16 UTC 2020

I've long been interested in the origin and history of "Tar Heel,"
specifically as it applies to the State of North Carolina and its
residents. (And I posted something about this not long ago; see link far

If you are born in the State or simply live here you can call yourself a
Tar Heel. If you attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
the state's flagship school, you're a Tar Heel. The University's sports
teams -- some extraordinary revenue-producers -- are known as the Tar Heels.

In light of recent increased awareness of racial injustice and inequality
across the country, I wouldn't be too surprised if we were to see a push
for the University, at least, to examine its relationship with "Tar Heels"
because of the term's long and complicated history and the University's
long and complicated history with race. (I could be wrong about that, but
there are some rumblings about this on social media.)

I believe that "Tar Heels" has classist roots, since it seems to have been
first applied, as "Rosin Heels" had been, to poor, marginalized whites in
the South decades before the Civil War. There's also evidence it was
sometimes used with regard to poor blacks/slaves in the antebellum South.

Within the first years of the Civil War, however, "Tar Heels" came to be
associated with and adopted by North Carolina troops and now may well be
considered as carrying a Confederate stain.

I have no idea whether the University, its Board of Trustees, and state
legislators will ever acknowledge this issue and take it up, but any
conversation about this would be interesting to follow.

-- Bonnie

[Ads-l] On "Tar Heels" in general and North Carolinians as "Tar Heels":

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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