Never let it be said that North Carolina backs away from a controversy.
During the same week that the state began requiring moped owners to obtain license plates and registrations, the Division of Motor Vehicles started offering automobile owners a new option for license plates that could stir up a fuss.
Since 1982 our standard license plates have proudly boasted the state as being First in Flight. It is a commemoration of the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk. But folks in Ohio have long contended the Buckeye State was the birthplace of aviation and deserves the credit for the Wright boys’ doings.
Add into that dispute a claim made just a couple of years ago by Connecticut officials that their state was the host of the first powered flight two years earlier than the Wrights’ Outer Banks adventure. They claim a German-born inventor beat the Wrights to the punch.
Now we’ll have to see what another New England state thinks about the slogan being offered on new license plates in the Tar Heel State.
“First in Freedom,” the new plates declare along with artwork of a quill pen and two dates familiar to students of North Carolina history. Those same dates — May 20, 1775, and April 12, 1776 — also appear on our state flag and the state seal.
The first date refers to what is known as the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The second relates to an event called the Halifax Resolves. The resolves, named for the town where the provincial congress of North Carolina was meeting at the time, gave the colony’s delegates at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia the authority to vote for independence of all the colonies.
There’s not much controversy about this event in our history. But as for the 1775 date, let’s just say the matter from the western side of our great state is still up for debate.
There may or may not have been a meeting in the area of what is now Charlotte back in May of that year. And those meeting may or may not have issued some sort of document, but no one can claim with 100 percent certainty that it was the very first Declaration of Independence in our nation’s history.
What we have come to know as the Mecklenburg Declaration was lost. It was recreated from memory and published more than 40 years later. Some of the phrasing in this declaration interestingly enough mimics the words of the July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence.
That led some to claim that Jefferson had plagiarized his most famous work while others point to it as proof that the Mecklenburg document came into existence long after the war had already been won.
Regardless, the May 1775 date still comes after the battles of Lexington and Concord. April 19 is an official holiday in Massachusetts, marking the anniversary of those battles. But even before then, for almost two years, most of the colony outside of Boston was in effect already independent, tossing out royal government for local control.
Undoubtedly the folks in the Bay State will look sneeringly at our new license plate slogans, much like the folks in Ohio have done for years.
But never fear, if you don’t want to been seen bragging about the “first” status of our state, the DMV has countless other options — from NASCAR to colleges and universities to organizations and causes. And you might still be able to be the first on your block to get one of those plates.