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The first Confederate statues were monuments to victory in a war of Southern aggression. Defeated at Appomattox, Southern whites regrouped by organizing terrorist militias and ransacking the region’s newly biracial local and state governments. As the North soured on Reconstruction and white Republicans finally abandoned the freed slaves, Southerners completed the “Redemption” of the old Confederacy with the imposition of a slavery-esque system of apartheid. Up went the statues to celebrate Dixie’s revenge. Read moreAlexander Jones: Conservatives are the cultural aggressors

State AP Stories

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Hundreds of thousands of students who have dropped off public school rolls since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic are unaccounted for. An analysis by The Associated Press, Stanford University’s Big Local News project and Stanford education professor Thomas Dee found 240,000 students in 21 states who have gone missing from schools. They did not move out of state, and did not sign up for private school or home-school. Early in the pandemic, school staff went door-to-door to reengage kids, but most such efforts have ended. Dee says the data suggests a need to understand more about the children who aren’t in school and how that will affect their development.

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A federal appeals court has sided again with North Carolina’s attorney general in a lawsuit involving a libel law that a district attorney sought to use to attempt to prosecute Josh Stein over a 2020 campaign commercial. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed on Wednesday with Stein and others associated with his political committee and said the 1931 law is most likely unconstitutional. Stein's campaign committee sued last summer because it was worried Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman’s office could soon seek indictments. The same panel granted a temporary injunction against Freeman in August. Stein is running for governor next year.

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A bill increasing punishments for violent protests following the 2020 demonstrations over George Floyd’s murder passed the House despite harsh criticism from social justice advocates. Some bipartisan support for Wednesday's measure signals a potential override of any veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who issued one that blocked similar legislation two years ago. The bills have been spearheaded by Republican House Speaker Tim Moore. Wednesday's measure now goes to the Senate. Democrats who opposed the measure and representatives of advocacy groups said the changes were unnecessary or attempts to discourage minority and low-income residents from speaking out. Some amendments were approved to address concerns of Democratic lawmakers.

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North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Senate has passed a bill requiring teachers to alert parents in most circumstances before calling a student by a different name or pronoun. Sponsors say the bill is needed to keep parents informed about what their children are being taught in public schools. Critics say it would make schools unsafe spaces for LGBTQ and questioning children to explore their identities. The proposal passed the Senate 29-18 on Tuesday. It would also prohibit instruction about gender identity and sexuality in K-4 classrooms. It now heads to the state House, where Republicans likely would need some Democratic support to push it through.

National & World AP Stories

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The fire chief in Ohio's small town of East Palestine says Wednesday that evacuated residents can safely return to the area where crews burned toxic chemicals after a train derailed five days ago near the Pennsylvania state line. Authorities in East Palestine had warned that burning vinyl chloride that was in five of the derailed tanker cars would send hydrogen chloride and the toxic gas phosgene into the air. They said Wednesday subsequent air monitoring hasn’t detected dangerous levels inside or outside the mile-radius evacuation zone, which stretched into Pennsylvania. Many nearby residents left shortly after the derailment, and others were ordered out before the controlled release of the chemicals because of concerns about serious health risks from it.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his young daughter took center stage at a huge military parade, fueling speculation she’s being primed as a future leader as her father showed off his latest, largest nuclear missiles. Wednesday night’s parade featured the newest hardware in Kim’s arsenal, including what experts said was possibly a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile he could test in the coming months. Around a dozen ICBMs were displayed — an unprecedented number that underscored how Kim continues to expand his military capabilities despite limited resources. The parade was the fifth known public appearance by Kim’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, who is believed to be around 10 years old and has been described with lofty phrases in state media.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is wrapping up a whirlwind tour of his major European backers. Already he will head home with heaps of goodwill, promises of more military aid and France’s highest medal of honor. Zelenskyy arrived at the European Union’s legislature in Brussels on Thursday. The Ukrainian anthem was played at the protocol entrance, followed by the European anthem. The EU's 27 leaders are hoping to impress on him that the powerful bloc is steadfast in its support of embattled Ukraine as Russia is feared to be making moves for a new offensive around the Feb. 24 one-year anniversary of the war.

China says U.S. accusations that a downed Chinese balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program amount to “information warfare against China." The Pentagon on Wednesday said the Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast was part of a program that China has been operating for “several years." Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning on Thursday repeated China's insistence that the large unmanned balloon was a civilian meteorological airship that had accidentally blown off course and that the U.S. had overreacted by shooting it down on Saturday. U.S. officials have dismissed the possibility that it was anything other than a balloon intended for military spying purposes and are recovering wreckage from the ocean for analysis.