When I land in a new country I like to ask the locals who their famous sons and daughters are, if I don’t already know them. Well, I just returned home to North Carolina after being abroad for 4 months, and it occurred to me to make a list of famous North Carolinians.
Famous North Carolinians: Off the Top of My Head
Here’s the thing: I could think of only two, namely Michael Jordan and James Taylor. The title image for this blog is the famous Nike Air Jordan sneaker ad of MJ in flight, so he’s my #1 famous North Carolinian.
Michael Jordan is from Kinston, played basketball at UNC, Chapel Hill and then went on to an illustrious career in the National Basketball Association playing for the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s and early 2000s. He currently lives in Charlotte, NC and is owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Hardly more needs to be said. He’s an international superstar.
My #2 is signer-songwriter is James Taylor . He grew up in Chapel Hill and has been touring nationally and internationally since 1970. He has sold millions and millions of albums worldwide.
Listen to: Carolina in My Mind
Now I’ve hit a wall, so I try to open my mind by thinking in categories, like writers and politicians.
For writers, I’ll add Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) as my #3.
For politicians I googled to see if any U.S. Presidents were from North Carolina and expected to come up with zero. I was kind of amazed to find three. Now I have #4, #5 and #6.
Famous North Carolinians: U.S. Presidents
Andrew Jackson was born in Union County and was the 7th President (1829-1837).
He stands out in my mind for two reasons: 1) his Indian removal policy forced the Cherokee to leave their land east of the Mississippi and settle in Oklahoma, thereby creating what is known as The Trail of Tears; and 2) his portrait currently hangs in the Oval Office.
James Knox Polk was born in Mecklenburg County and was the 11th President (1845-1849).
Since I didn’t know anything about him, I looked him up and discovered that, among other things, he was once Governor of Tennessee (1839-1841), but I’ll still keep him in the NC column. He also won the victory of the Mexican-American War that gave the U.S. the American Southwest.
Andrew Johnson was born in Wake County and was the 17th President (1865-1869)
His claims to fame? He was the Vice President when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and he was the first president to be impeached in U.S. history.
Time to ask my fellow locals to round out my list of ten.
Famous North Carolinians: By Consultation
My friend Joe suggested legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967) who was born in Hamlet and grew up in High Point.
Frank suggested 7-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty. Check out his twitter at: RPMotorsports
Vanessa suggested rapper J. Cole. A quick search told me he was born on a military base in Germany but he grew up in Fayetteville (an NC military town), so I can include him here.
Listen to his Apparently.
Finally, a waiter I happened to ask gave me comedian-actor Zach Galifinakis.
I loved him in The Hangover and watched his awkward interviews in Between Two Ferns, but I had no idea Zach was from NC. So he, along with the U.S. Presidents, were the surprises for me.
Of course, I knew about John Coltrane, Richard Petty and J. Cole (just barely, I admit), but I didn’t think of them on my own.
Final question: Where are the women? (I’m working on answering that.)
See also: Ten Famous Portuguese
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen