By Leah Hughes
James K. Polk, the 11th U.S. president, was born in Mecklenburg County on Nov. 2, 1795. He lived on his parents’ homestead near Pineville until he was 11 and the family moved to Tennessee. The land is now a North Carolina Historic Site that has a reconstructed log cabin similar to the one the Polk family inhabited.
President Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767, but his birthplace in the Carolinas has been debated for years. Some believe he was born just south of Waxhaw, North Carolina, while others maintain he was born in South Carolina. A statue of Jackson outside of the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh places him beside the two other presidents from the state, and the stone representing where he is from reads “Union County.”
On May 28, 1791, President George Washington visited Col. Thomas Polk, the founder of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Washington spent the night at Cook’s Inn. The location near the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets is now marked with a plaque and is part of the Charlotte Liberty Walk.
Meck Dec Day, which commemorates the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence on May 20, 1775, has brought four sitting presidents to town. President William Howard Taft visited in 1909. President Woodrow Wilson appeared on the front page of The Charlotte Observer under the headline “Stand by the President!” when he arrived in 1916. President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave an address in Freedom Park in 1954. And in 1975, President Gerald Ford attended the bicentennial anniversary.
On Sept. 10, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the keynote speaker at the Green Pastures Rally held at Charlotte’s American Legion Memorial Stadium. The rally celebrated Roosevelt’s New Deal economic policies.
In 1954 Richard Nixon, then the vice president, appeared on “The Arthur Smith Show,” which was recorded in Charlotte. Nixon played “Home on the Range” on the piano.
Charlotte native and world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham has met with every president since World War II, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. President Barack Obama is the first sitting president to visit Graham at his home in Montreat, North Carolina.
Charlotte was in the national spotlight for a full week as host of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, when former President Bill Clinton spoke and President Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for a second term.
For more about Charlotte’s presidential past, check out the website “Presidential Visits to Charlotte”. The online exhibit includes materials housed in Special Collections at the J. Murrey Atkins Library at UNC Charlotte.
This article ran in the February 2015 issue of Charlotte Happenings.