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Many North Carolinians know only a few things about James Baxter Hunt Jr. Many people know that he is a nationally recognized leader in education and has led his state through twenty years of dramatic. Many know that Hunt has devoted much of the last twenty years of his life to excellence in teaching in the United States. Also that he is a strong supporter of high standards in public schools. There are many things that people do not know about James Baxter Hunt, and some of those include Hunt serving as Chairman of the National Education Goals Panel and Vice Chairman of the board of Achieve, Inc. He has also put into place in North Carolina one of the nation’s most rigorous approaches to measuring student performance, requiring mastery for promotion and graduation, and providing assistance to turn around failing schools. During his time he has made North Carolinas economic gains for education very impressive. Through his time serving North Carolina there were many great things Mr. Hunt did for our state, and he has retired from politics and he is currently a member in the law firm of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC, in Raleigh. He now lives with his wife, Carolyn on their beef cattle farm near Raleigh. They have four children together and nine grandchildren (U.S Dept of Edu) .
James Hunt descended from a very prosperous lineage. The Hunt family settled in NC during the eighteenth century. Nearly two hundred years before James Hunt was born in Greensboro, NC. James Hunt’s direct paternal ancestor Henry Hunt had migrated to the North Carolina colony from Virginia in 1742, bringing African slaves to harvest the tobacco on his 150 acre farm in Edgecombe county (Grimsley). Henry hunt owned around 450 acres of land by 1747, which he left to his wife, Agnes. His son John settled in Granville County taking care of operating a 370-acre tobacco plantation where he, his children, and grandchildren remained for several decades. Two generations later, James Baxter Hunt’s grandfather, William would be born on February 7, 1869 in Granville County. He raised his children under the same values that he was taught by his father. James Hunt’s family helped North Carolina throughout the decades and William hunt helped design North Carolinas first women’s college in Greensboro after getting the funding approved by the general assembly.
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James B. Hunt Jr. was born in Guildford County on May 16, 1937. His father had a great influence on him. He was a, a hard-driving federal official. He was an advocate of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs transforming agricultural practices in the South. With such a strong figure that he looked up to, he demanded much from his oldest son, and James hunts’ mother was a college-educated teacher who encouraged him to study and work hard throughout life. Because of the work ethic and values instilled in James, he graduated with honors and as a valedictorian of his class and decided to go onto college at North Carolina State College (Grimsley). James grew up being instilled with the family values and continued his family’s tradition of aiding North Carolina by serving as lieutenant governor, and governor of North Carolina between the years of 1973-1985. He ran for Senator in 1984 against Jessie Helms and lost, but was eventually elected as the delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2000. James B Hunt pushed himself further and further into politics for the benefit of North Carolina, but what was it that interested him in politics?
James Hunt first began to get interested in politics as a student at North Carolina State College. He earned two degrees, and became a leading expert on the federal tobacco program by the time he completed his master’s degree in 1962. He participated in various activities, while making invaluable contacts in the young democratic clubs and student government. In the student government, he served two years as the student body president, which gave him a lot of experience in initiating legislation, meeting with constituencies, and practicing leadership skills. The most important part of his education was the fact that he used his education to gain a deep understanding of North Carolina politics. He originally planned to use his education to become a dairy farmer. To earn money, he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture measuring federal tobacco allotments. While working for the federal government he continued his development of knowledge with Agriculture, and politics. After graduation, he decided to transfer his energies from agriculture to law (Corporate News).
James Hunt decided to work for Terry Sanford during his senator campaign pushing education and improvements for racial harmony. During this time, Hunt made his most important political connection, Sanford’s campaign manager Bert Bennett. Here Hunt learned to fight with everything you’ve got to fight with. With Sanford and Bennett as role models, James Hunt begins to look for his entrance into politics as a candidate during the later part of the 60’s and early 70’s. Hunt first decided to consider his run for office in the state during one of the greatest changes in the Democratic Party at the beginning of the 70’s. During this time, Hunt marched with Martin Luther King Jr., and this later affected his campaign in North Carolina because at the time, many of his constitutes were racist, but he would not let this haunt him (Grimsley).
In 1972, Hunt entered the race for the lieutenant governor. He faced candidates that could outspend him by thousands and who attacked his weakness of little legislative and executive experience. Hunt was able to continue through the campaign and won with the support of the old progressive network and the dissemination among the rest of the North Carolina Democratic Party. After the amazing victory for Hunt, many people began to praise him and say that he was a man for the future and that he had great promise. From this point, Hunt was able to establish a strong network through each county in North Carolina. After winning the Lieutenant governor position, hunt realized he had a lot to learn about his executive duties and how to accomplish his goals as well. Hunt was lieutenant governor from 73 to 77, and then became governor from 77 to 85 (U.S Dept of Edu).
During his time in office he was able to achieve a vast amount of success in the area of education for North Carolina. Hunt is well known for his successes in the North Carolina Education system and this campaign for better education was driven by a national report called a Nation at Risk, which was released in 1983. This report, originally commissioned by President Ronald Reagan, carried an unexpected message to the nation: Improve the nation's education system or risk the nation's security and competitiveness. Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. established the North Carolina Commission on Education for Economic Growth to research the status of the public education system and proposed a plan for "ensuring the future prosperity and well-being of our children and the continuing soundness of our state's economy." One of the significant changes to the North Carolina Education system was that high school diploma requirements were raised. The North Carolina Scholars Program, a unique program was intended to encourage students to take a challenging curriculum of 22 units (U.S Dept of Edu). In return for meeting the requirements, students receive a special designation on their high school diploma. This changed a lot of high school curriculum to include higher learning classes and Advanced Placement courses. This became the benchmark for which Governor Hunt is known.
Towards the end of his term as governor, Hunt decided it would be time to run for a Senator position for North Carolina in congress. He had done well as the states governor and he knew he would be able to accomplish things on capital hill. The only thing that should in his way was Senator Jessie Helms. The senate race of 1984 is seen as one of the most bitter and expensive races in North Carolina history. James Hunt said later when elections would arise again for the senate position, that “he simply did not have the stomach to go through another race of such brutality”(Dionne). The race of 1984 focused on negative ads and character attacks and not on the issues and not on the future of North Carolina and the nation. It is clear that James B. Hunt held his high integrity by choosing not to run a race that is not focused on the issues and only focused on superfluous slandering and negative media (Snider).
James Baxter Hunt Jr. not only exemplified the progressive tradition of earlier North Carolina governors, but transformed the tradition to embrace a concern for minorities, women’s rights and consumer issues that faced North Carolina. With the influence of his father and mother, he worked diligently and strived vigorously to be the best he could be. He grew up in the strong community of Rock Ridge, and he developed his strong community ethic, which he brought to his governorship and to the people of North Carolina. Some may remember him as a governor of North Carolina, but he was really so much more.
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