Through much of the nineteenth century, commencement served as a sort of unofficial homecoming for alumni. Former students often returned to participate in the ceremonies and connect with former classmates. The modern homecoming tradition began in the early twentieth century, coinciding with the rising popularity of intercollegiate sports. The University of Missouri is credited with starting the trend when it held a homecoming celebration in 1911 complete with pep rallies and a parade leading up to a football game. At UNC, the General Alumni Association worked to build a homecoming tradition. The first official homecoming weekend at Carolina came in 1923. Students began electing a homecoming king and queen in the 1930s and held a homecoming parade beginning in the 1950s (however, the homecoming parade was never as popular or as rowdy as the annual Beat Dook Parade).
The tradition of electing a homecoming queen evolved from a process that resembled a beauty pageant in the mid-twentieth century to a more democratic system in the 1970s. The changes resulted in both a more diverse group of winners and a number of challenges to a tradition that was increasingly seen as sexist and outdated. In 1975 students elected a male student, Delmar Williams. The athletic department threatened to cancel the ceremonies before reaching a compromise in which a female student was picked as honorary homecoming queen and Williams was honored as homecoming king. In 1976 student Sheri Parks was elected the first African American homecoming queen. By the 1980s the annual election was frequently used as a vehicle for pranks. Students ran a dog for homecoming queen in 1980 (she was eventually disqualified because the rules stated that the candidate had to be a currently enrolled student), and in 1983 students elected Steve Latham, who ran under the pseudonym "Yure Nmomma."
Despite changing student attitudes, homecoming continued to be a major event for alumni. The General Alumni Association expanded its programming, hosting large reunions for classes and for affinity groups such as Black Alumni Reunion, band members, and student government. Activities take place throughout what is now called Alumni Weekend.