The Rise and Fall of the Branchhead Boys

North Carolina’s Scott Family and the Era of Progressive Politics

By Rob Christensen

336 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 15 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5104-0
    Published: May 2019
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5105-7
    Published: March 2019
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4848-2
    Published: March 2019

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Awards & distinctions

2019 Ragan Old North State Award for Nonfiction, North Carolina Literary and Historical Association

Louisiana had the Longs, Virginia had the Byrds, Georgia had the Talmadges, and North Carolina had the Scotts. In this history of North Carolina’s most influential political family, Rob Christensen tells the story of the Scotts and how they dominated Tar Heel politics. Three generations of Scotts—W. Kerr Scott, Robert Scott, and Meg Scott Phipps—held statewide office. Despite stereotypes about rural white southerners, the Scotts led a populist and progressive movement strongly supported by rural North Carolinians—the so-called Branchhead Boys, the rural grassroots voters who lived at the heads of tributaries throughout the heart of North Carolina. Though the Scotts held power in various government positions in North Carolina for generations, they were instrumental in their own downfall. From Kerr Scott’s regression into reactionary race politics to Meg Scott Phipps’s corruption trial and subsequent prison sentence, the Scott family lost favor in their home state, their influence dimmed and their legacy in question.

Weaving together interviews from dozens of political luminaries and deep archival research, Christensen offers an engaging and definitive historical account of not only the Scott family’s legacy but also how race and populism informed North Carolina politics during the twentieth century.

About the Author

Rob Christensen is political columnist for the News and Observer in Raleigh.
For more information about Rob Christensen, visit the Author Page.


“Christensen does an outstanding job of patching together what had to be hundreds of documents, letters and interviews to deliver a concisely written and thought-provoking historical account that is both rich in detail yet not overwhelming. He presents the story of the Scott political dynasty without editorial comment. In the best reporting tradition he places facts above commentary, providing just enough context to sharpen the clarity of sometimes murky events.”—Burlington Times-News

“Longtime newspaper reporter Rob Christensen draws on media accounts, interviews, and oral histories to prepare a balanced assessment of these two political careers.”—Choice

“A remarkable book about the Scott family and its influence on North Carolina progressive politics. . . . Christensen uses numerous primary sources, including family papers, diaries, letters, newspapers, oral histories, and government documents, as well as abundant secondary sources, to tell his engaging story. . . . [Which] provides fascinating insights into North Carolina’s progressive politics in the twentieth century.”—Journal of Southern History

“Compelling and exhaustively researched. . . . A lively political history.” —North Carolina Historical Review

“Rob Christensen captures the spirit of the times in this captivating history of the Scott family. Anyone wanting to understand North Carolina politics and history should read this book.”—Tom Eamon, author of The Making of a Southern Democracy

"From Rob Christensen, the dean of North Carolina political reporters, comes this invaluable contribution, told through the lives and careers of the Scott family. The Rise and Fall of the Branchhead Boys is crisp, accessible, smart, and thoroughly researched—and essential reading for students of modern North Carolina.”—William A. Link, author of William Friday: Power, Purpose, and American Higher Education