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Here is a listing of just a few of our state's most famous sons and daughters, as well as links to Web sites where you can learn more about some of them. Many were born here, some moved here at an early age, and others chose to make North Carolina their home as adults, but all have become part of our state's story.  If you have information on any other famous North Carolinians that you think should be included, let us know!

 

Kids
  • Virginia Dare: The first child born of English parents in the New World. Dare was born August 18, 1587, in the ill-fated "Lost Colony" of Roanoke.
  • Conrad Reed: This twelve year old boy discovered the first gold nugget in the United States in 1799 while fishing in a Cabarrus County creek. Young Conrad's find would eventually spark the nation's first gold rush, but it took a while. The 17 pound rock was used as a doorstop in the Reed family home for three years before being sold for approximately $3.50.
  • Betsy Dowdy: This Currituck County girl rode her pony 50 miles in 1775 to warn General William Skinner that British troops were planning to attack her colony.
Public Figures
  • William Blount: This North Carolina native was one of three representatives of the Tar Heel State to sign the United States Constitution as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
  • Curtis Brown: An astronaut from Elizabethtown, North Carolina, Brown led the 1999 Space Shuttle Discovery mission that took the legendary John Glenn back into space.
  • Levi Coffin: Born in New Garden, North Carolina to Quaker parents in 1798, Coffin fought against slavery as part of The Underground Railroad.
  • Adolph Dial: An outspoken advocate for Lumbee tribal heritage, Dial was a historian, businessman and politician. He wrote what was considered to be the definitive book on the Lumbee tribe. 
  • Charlie Duke: This native of Charlotte grew up to become an astronaut and one of only 12 people to ever walk on the surface of the moon!
  • Sam Ervin: This Morganton native became known nationwide as "Senator Sam." He served in the U.S. Senate for 20 years, and was the chairman of the committee investigating the Watergate burglary. He was known for his folksy charm and his strong moral character.
  • John Hope Franklin: One of the world's most celebrated historians, Franklin was born in Oklahoma, but made North Carolina his home for many years as a professor at Duke University. The author of "From Slavery to Freedom," a book that helped reshape the way African American history is understood, Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 and was appointed chairman of the President's Initiative on Race in 1997.
  • Henry Frye: This Greensboro attorney became the first African-American to serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1983. He served as Chief Justice of the Court from 1999-2001. 
  • Billy Graham: Perhaps the most famous evangelical preacher in the world, this Charlotte native was voted 48 times to a list of the most admired men in the world. He advised several presidents and become famous for his "crusades" across the globe.
  • Jesse Helms: A former journalist from Monroe who became the first Republican senator elected in North Carolina in modern times. Known for his conservative viewpoints, Helms retired from the Senate after serving five terms.
  • Andrew Jackson: Born in Western North Carolina, Jackson was the 7th President of the United States. He was known for his staunch defense of the rights of the people, and also for his frequent parties, which anyone in the country could attend!
  • Andrew Johnson: A Raleigh native and former tailor who rose to become Vice President of the United States, Johnson assumed the presidency after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. In 1868 he became the first President ever to be impeached.
  • Dolley Madison: One of America's most famous First Ladies, this Piedmont, North Carolina native was the wife of President James Madison. She is known for originating the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn and also for saving George Washington's picture and many important state documents from the White House when it was set on fire in 1814.
  • Daniel McFadden: This Nobel Prize winning economist teaches at the University of California at Berkeley now, but he grew up in North Carolina. At 16, McFadden dropped out of high school in Spencer, North Carolina. However, he went on to ace his college entrance exams and enter the University of Minnesota, where he studied physics, psychology and economics. He won the 2000 Nobel Prize in economics for his pioneering work in microeconomics.
  • John Merrick: Merrick founded North Carolina Mutual and Provident Insurance Company in Durham in 1898. By 1948, it was the largest African American owned business in the country.
  • James K. Polk: Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and idolized Andrew Jackson. Eventually, he rose to become one of Jackson's aides and then became President himself. It was during his administration that California and Oregon became part of the United States.
  • Terry Sanford: This Laurinburg native had a distinguished political career, including service as the Governor of North Carolina, a term as a U.S. Senator, and two presidential campaigns. He was ranked by Harvard University as one of the top ten governors of the century, and was known for doing what he felt was right, from standing up for civil rights to opposing the Gulf War.
  • Michael Smith: An astronaut from Beaufort, North Carolina, Smith perished on January 28, 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after launching from Kennedy Space Center.
  • Richard Dobbs Spaight: A delegate to the convention that framed the United States Constitution, this North Carolina native strongly advocated the state’s adoption of the federal constitution. In 1792, he was elected governor of North Carolina.
  • Hugh Williamson: This Pennsylvania born physician settled in North Carolina and later helped form and signed the federal constitution of the United States after being appointed as one of North Carolina’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Writers
  • Maya Angelou: Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in rural Arkansas, Angelou lived in North Carolina for more than 30 years and was a professor at Wake Forest University. She had a distinguished career as a poet and author. Among her most famous works is   "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
  • Clyde Edgerton: Edgerton, a native of Bethesda, North Carolina, has achieved national recognition for his novels, among them his first work, "Raney."
  • Kaye Gibbons: A native of North Carolina's Nash County, Gibbons has won critical acclaim for novels such as "Ellen Foster" and "A Cure for Dreams."
  • William Sydney Porter: This famed short story writer is better known by his pen name, O. Henry. Born in Polecat Creek in 1862 and raised in Greensboro, Porter was known for his surprise endings, such as that in the story "Gift of the Magi."
  • Thomas Wolfe: Born in Asheville, Wolfe was a noted novelist and author of books such as "Look Homeward, Angel" and "You Can't Go Home Again."
Journalists
  • David Brinkley: A TV news reporter and commentator from Wilmington, Brinkley was best known for co-hosting the "Huntley-Brinkley Report" from 1956 to 1970 and later hosting "This Week with David Brinkley."
  • Howard Cosell: Cosell was a famous sports commentator from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was known for freely expressing his opinions on nearly every topic in sports, and for serving as one of the original hosts of the television program "Monday Night Football." 
  • Charles Kuralt: An Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist from Wilmington, Kuralt spent nearly all of his career with CBS news, most notably as the host of "On The Road" and "Sunday Morning."
  • Edward R. Murrow: A five-time Emmy winning journalist from Polecat Creek, North Carolina, Murrow is a member of the Television Hall of Fame. He earned distinction at CBS news for his TV and radio reporting.
  • Sam Ragan: Born in Granville County, Ragan has been called North Carolina's "literary godfather." He is also the man who gave newsman David Brinkley his start, hiring him as a cub reporter for the Wilmington Star. He was honored as North Carolina's Poet Laureate in 1982.
  • Charlie Rose:An Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist and interviewer, Rose was born in Henderson, North Carolina. His interview show, "Charlie Rose," has become a staple of PBS programming.
Entertainers/Artists
Individuals
  • Clay Aiken: This Raleigh native became a national singing sensation as he competed for top honors in the television show "American Idol" in 2003. Aiken came in runner up in the competition, but he did win a recording contract and his single "This is the Night" went platinum.
  • Fantasia Barrino: This High Point native came to fame when she won top honors on the television show “American Idol” in 2004. After being crowned the American Idol, Fantasia’s single “I Believe” won two Billboard Awards and her album “Free Yourself” went platinum in 2005.
  • John Coltrane: Born in Hamlet, North Carolina, Coltrane is considered to be one of the greatest and most innovative jazz musicians of all time.
  • Cecil B. DeMille: DeMille, from Washington, North Carolina, was a famous actor and director of early films. He is best known for his work on movies such as "The Ten Commandments" and "The Greatest Show on Earth."
  • Roberta Flack: This Grammy-winning singer from Black Mountain, North Carolina, is best known for titles such as "Killing Me Softly with His Song" and "Set the Night to Music."
  • Ava Gardner: This famous actress from Smithfield, North Carolina, received both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her many film roles. Some of her more noted films include "Show Boat," "On the Beach," and "The Sun Also Rises."
  • Andy Griffith: The actor from Mount Airy, North Carolina is famous for his work on the long running television programs "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Matlock."
  • Scotty McCreery: This country crooner from Garner gained fame when he won top honors on the television show "American Idol" in 2011 at the age of 17.
  • Thelonious Monk: Born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Monk was a legendary jazz pianist known for his innovative techniques. He was among a select group of musicians responsible for the birth of a new form of jazz known as "bebop."
  • Earl Scruggs: Born and raised in North Carolina's Cleveland County, Earl Scruggs was just  four years old when he picked up his first banjo. Together with guitarist Lester Flatt and the "Foggy Mountain Boys," he helped introduce bluegrass music to popular culture in the 1960s through the theme music to the television show "The Beverly Hillbillies" and the film "Bonnie and Clyde." 
  • Arthur Smith: Known to country music fans for many years, Smith created and produced "The Arthur Smith Show." The show ran for 32 years, giving many up and coming musicians their first exposure to a national audience. A musician in his own right, Smith composed and recorded "Guitar Boogie," the all time best selling country music instrumental song.
  • James Taylor: Born in Boston and raised in Chapel Hill, Taylor was arguably the most famous singer/songwriter of the 1970s. Known for the introspective lyrics of songs like "Carolina in My Mind," "Fire and Rain" and "Sweet Baby James," Taylor is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
  • Bob Timberlake: Timberlake is a Lexington, North Carolina artist who is renowned for his intricate paintings and attention to detail.
  • Doc Watson: Born in Deep Gap, North Carolina, this musician gained prominence during the folk music revival of the 1960s. Blind since infancy, Watson's unique blend of  traditional Appalachian, country, blues, gospel and bluegrass music has earned him five Grammy Awards.
Athletes
  • Dale Earnhardt, Sr.: A native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, Earnhardt became one of the most popular race car drivers in NASCAR history. Known to fans as "The Intimidator" for his aggressive style, Earnhardt won seven Winston Cup Championships. He was killed in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 race on February 18, 2001.
  • Jim "Catfish" Hunter: This Perquimans County native gained national fame as a pitcher for the Kansas City Athletics and the New York Yankees. His impressive list of wins earned him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
  • Michael Jordan: Although he was born in Brooklyn, the man regarded by many as the greatest basketball player of all time moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, at a very early age, and spent his childhood there. He attended UNC-Chapel Hill, where his team won an NCAA tournament, and then was a part of two Olympic gold medal teams and 6 NBA championship teams with the Chicago Bulls.
  • Charlie "Choo-Choo" Justice: An Asheville native who became a star football player for the UNC Tar Heels in the late 1940s and then the Washington Redskins in the 1950s.
  • Meadowlark Lemon: A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, Lemon played with the Harlem Globetrotters for 24 years. Affectionately known to many as the "Clown Prince of Basketball," Lemon was as famous for his comedic skill on the basketball court as he was for his athletic talent. He later became an ordained minister and now serves as a preacher in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he divides his time between his work with youth and with his own basketball team, the Harlem All-Stars.
  • Sugar Ray Leonard: This world famous boxer, born in Wilmington, won an Olympic gold medal and 5 world titles.
  • Gaylord Perry: This Williamston native and Baseball Hall of Famer pitched 3,534 strikeouts during his career, playing for teams like the San Francisco Giants, the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. Perry won the prestigious Cy Young Award in 1972 and 1978. 
  • Richard Petty: This Randleman, North Carolina native gained fame as a NASCAR racing driver. Petty won 7 championships and holds the record for most consecutive race wins: 10.

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