Charlotte's Presidential Past
From Presidents James K. Polk to Donald Trump, Charlotte has played host to a plethora of the nation’s most powerful people.
by Leah Hughes
President Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767 (just one year before the founding of Charlotte in 1768), 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 State 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.
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 then moved to Tennessee. The land is now a North Carolina Historic Site—the President James K. Polk State Historic Site. It features a reconstructed log cabin similar to the one the Polk family inhabited.
According to history records, President Theodore Roosevelt gave two speeches in Charlotte—in 1902 and 1905.
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. The life and teachings of Graham’s life are on display at The Billy Graham Library.
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. Spectrum Center took the spotlight during the week’s events, but Jon Stewart also hosted installments of “The Daily Show,” which reported on the DNC, from ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center. Obama and his family are said to have stayed at The Ballantyne Hotel during their visit.
During the 2016 Presidential Campaign, President Donald Trump and politically decorated former first lady Hillary Clinton (then the Democratic presidential candidate) visited Charlotte on several occasions to speak to prospective voters. With North Carolina considered a key swing state, the Tar Heel State hosted one or both candidates nearly every week in the final months preceding the election. Special Charlotte-based events included Clinton’s rally with former President Barack Obama at the Charlotte Convention Center on July 5, 2016, her Veterans of Foreign Wars speech and supporter event, again at the Charlotte Convention Center, on July 25, a rally at Johnson C. Smith University on Sept. 8 and her attendance of a Little Rock AME Zion church service on Oct. 2. Trump delivered his VFW speech at the Charlotte Convention Center on July 26 and returned to the city for rallies on Aug. 18, Oct. 14 and Oct. 26. After their first rally, Obama and Clinton made a pit stop at Midwood Smokehouse in Plaza Midwood for a sampling of North Carolina barbecue.
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.