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Famous North Carolinians

This list provides details on famous people who are connected with North Carolina, and also has links to web sites where you can learn even more about them. Nearly all of them were born here, but a few moved here at an early age or lived a significant portion of their lives here. If you have information on any other famous North Carolinians, please let us know!

Choose one of the following categories:

Public Figures


Virginia Dare: The first English child born in the New World, Dare was born August 18, 1587, in the ill-fated "Lost Colony" of Roanoke.

Conrad Reed: in 1799 this twelve year old discovered the first gold nugget in the United States.

Betsy Dowdy: in 1775 this Currituck girl rode her pony all night-50 miles-to deliver an important message to General William Skinner.

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Public Figures

Curtis Brown:  An astronaut from Elizabethtown, NC, Brown recently flew with the legendary John Glenn aboard the space shuttle Discovery.

Elizabeth Dole: A native of Salisbury, Dole has worked for 6 different presidents, eventually serving as Secretary of Transportation and later Secretary of Labor. She most recently served as the President of the American Red Cross, and was the first woman to hold that position since the organization's founder, Clara Barton, did so in 1881. She is also the wife of Bob Dole, a former senator and presidential candidate.

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.

Billy Graham: Probably the most famous evangelical preacher in the world, the Charlotte native has been voted 39 times to a list of the most admired men in the world. He has advised several presidents and has become famous for his "crusades" all over the world.

Jesse Helms: A former journalist from Monroe who became the first Republican senator elected in North Carolina in modern times. He is currently serving in his 5th term in the Senate, where he has become known for his conservative viewpoints.

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, to which anyone in the country could come!

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 killed.  In 1868 he became the first president ever to be impeached.

Dolley Madison: One of America's most famous First Ladies, this Piedmont, NC 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.

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, NC, and idolized Andrew Jackson. Eventually, he rose to be 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.

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Maya Angelou: Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Arkansas, Angelou has lived in North Carolina since the early 1980s, when she accepted a position as a professor at Wake Forest University. She has had a distinguished career as a novelist and poet, with one of her most famous works being I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Jerry Bledsoe: A journalist from Asheboro, Bledsoe has written several books including Bitter Blood and Blood Games.

Clyde Edgerton: Edgerton, a native of Bethesda, North Carolina, has achieved national recognition for his novels, among them his first work, Raney.

William Sidney Porter: Better known as O. Henry, the famed short story writer. A Greensboro native, 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.

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David Brinkley: A Wilmington native who became a TV news reporter and commentator. He was best known for hosting the Huntley-Brinkley Report and This Week with David Brinkley.

Charles Kuralt: An Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist from Wilmington. He 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.

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John Coltrane: Born in Hamlet, NC, Coltrane is considered to be one of the greatest and most innovative jazz musicians of all time.

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".

Rick Dees: This nationally known DJ who hosts his own "Weekly Top 40" radio show is originally from Greensboro, NC.

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: Popular singer for several decades from Black Mountain, NC, Flack is a Grammy-winning artist. She is 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 Mt. Airy, NC is famous for his work on the long running television programs "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Matlock".

Thelonius Monk: Monk was a legendary jazz pianist from Rocky Mount, NC, who was known for his innovative techniques.

Bob Timberlake: Timberlake is a Lexington, NC artist who is renowned for his intricate paintings and attention to detail.

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Ben Folds Five: This popular band from Chapel Hill has gained fame for songs such as "Brick".

The Connells: The Connells are an alternative band from Raleigh, NC. Some of their biggest hits have been "Stone Cold Yesterday" and "'74-'75".

The Embers: A popular Raleigh beach music band that has been performing hits such as "I Love Beach Music" for many years.

Squirrel Nut Zippers: A Chapel Hill/Efland, NC band with influences from a variety of styles of music, the Zippers are most famous for songs such as "Ghost of Stephen Foster".

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Mia Hamm: Probably the most famous female soccer player in the United States, if not the world, Hamm went to school at UNC-Chapel Hill and still resides in Chapel Hill. She was the youngest ever member of the U.S. national team at age 15, and has continued to excel, winning countless awards and setting many records.

Michael Jordan: Although he was born in Brooklyn, the man most would say is the greatest basketball player ever moved to Wilmington, NC, at a very early age, and spent his childhood there. He later went to 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 Tarheels in the late 1940s and then the Washington Redskins in the 1950s.

Meadowlark Lemon: A Wilmington native, Lemon played with the Harlem Globetrotters for 22 years, which he followed up with an acting career. He later became an ordained minister and now serves as a preacher in 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.

Richard Petty: A Randleman, NC native, Petty is a NASCAR racing driver who has won 7 championships and holds a record for most consecutive race wins: ten.

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