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NORTH CAROLINA , though the most industrialized of the Southern states, remains relatively rural and poor, with just six million people spread over an area larger than England. It suffered heavily during the Civil War , and Reconstruction brought mixed fortunes: although poverty and hostility were still endemic the Democrats, once they regained control in 1870, were effective in stamping out the Ku Klux Klan. Since then there have been parallel traditions of radical black, and white racist, activity. Greensboro , for example, where Jesse Jackson served his political apprenticeship, was the site of the 1960 lunch-counter sit-in by black students, and also of the Greensboro Massacre of 1979, when Klansmen killed five people at a Communist Workers Party demonstration.

Geographically, North Carolina breaks down into three distinct areas - running from east to west, the coast, the Piedmont and the mountains - that help make it one of the more interesting states to tour around. For visitors, the coast is the most promising area, with good beaches, beautiful landscapes and a fascinating history. The inner coast consists largely of the less developed Albemarle Peninsula , with colonial Edenton nearby. The central Piedmont is dominated by manufacturing cities, and by the academic institutions of the prestigious Research Triangle: Raleigh , the state capital, is home to North Carolina State University. Duke University is at Durham , and the University of North Carolina at trendy Chapel Hill.

Winston-Salem combines tobacco culture and Moravian heritage, while Charlotte bills itself as the next boom city of the South, though for the moment it's distinguished by little but its downtown skyscrapers. In the mountains , one of the most stunning stretches of Appalachia, the only towns of any size, Boone and Asheville , are linked by the spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway , while Great Smoky Mountains National Park overlaps the border with Tennessee.

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