Auspicious Start for North Carolina Awards

Author and poet Maya Angelou receives the North Carolina Award in 1987 from Gov. Jim Martin. Image from the State Archives.

On June 22, 1961, the General Assembly established the North Carolina Award to honor outstanding achievements by North Carolinians.

The award was proposed by State Senator Robert Lee Humber of Pitt County, who hoped that the award would inspire others to excel in their fields for the betterment of North Carolina. He would go on to win the award for public service in 1968.

Since the North Carolina Award’s creation, medals have been given to more than 250 recipients for contributions to literature, fine arts, science and public service.  The first class of winners, recognized in 1964, included microbiologist John Couch for science; novelist Inglis Fletcher for literature; painter Francis Speight for fine art; and editor of The Progressive Farmer Clarence Poe and chemist, businessman, philanthropist and ambassador John Motley Morehead III, both for public service.

The award is administered by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and new recipients are honored each fall with presentation of the medal at a banquet.

Some of the more famous North Carolina Award recipients include cultural figures Etta Baker, Doc Watson, James Taylor, and Maya Angelou; media and public service figures David Brinkley and Charles Kuralt; and scientists Gertrude Elion and Joseph M. DeSimone.

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