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History of the North Carolina Awards

by Amy Rudersdorf, N.C. Government & Heritage Library, 2012; Kelly Agan, N.C. Government & Heritage Library, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021; Updated by SLNC Government & Heritage Library, 2021, 2023.

See also: North Carolina Awards; Black and African American North Carolina Award WinnersNorth Carolina Awards ceremony programs (NC Digital Collections)

North Carolina Awards programsOn June 22, 1961, the General Assembly established the North Carolina Awards, the highest civilian honor the State of North Carolina can bestow. According to the legislation, called General Statute 140A-2:

 [t]hese recognitions shall be known as the North Carolina Awards for Literature, Science, the Fine Arts and Public Service, and shall be conferred upon citizens of North Carolina for the most notable attainments in these respective fields during the current year, terminating four months before the date of award, though such distinctions can be exceptionally conferred, with the approval of the Governor and the Council of State, for eminence achieved during years prior to the award.  1961 Session Laws, pages 1572-1573.

The first medals were awarded in 1964 to five recipients. Up to six awards may be presented each year.

Since its inception, more than 250 notable men and women have been honored by the state of North Carolina. Recipients include William Friday, Romare Bearden, James Taylor, Gertrude Elion, John Hope Franklin, David Brinkley, Maya Angelou, Billy Graham, Branford Marsalis, Loretta Lynch, and Philip Freelon.

Image of the front and back of the North Carolina Award medal. The medal is gold in color and composition and has raised images and text. The front reads "State of North Carolina Award" with the state seal, an image of two women in robes representing Liberty and Plenty, one holding a capped pole and one holding heads of grain with a cornucopia. The back of the medal says "Achievement is Man's Mark of Greatness" and has an unfurling scroll surrounded by Nominations may be submitted by anyone, with final decisions made by the NC Awards Committee, comprised of five gubernatorial appointees. Recipients are typically honored during a ceremony that takes place each fall. The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources administers the award program.

View the ceremony programs by year in the NC Digital Collections.

About the Medals

The North Carolina Award medals were designed by the sculptor Paul Manship, one of his last commissions before his death in 1966 at the age of 81. Each medal is 2 ¾ inches in diameter. It is intended to be worn on a red, white, and blue ribbon around the neck. The first medals were made of fourteen karat gold, although the mineral content has changed over the years to 10 karat gold (1974-1979) and gold-plated silver (1980-today).

Alphabetical List of Medal Winners

Abbott, Anthony A. Literature, 2015

Adcock, Betty. Literature, 1996

Ammons, A.R. Literature, 1986

Aneja, Viney. Science, 2007
Angelou, Maya. Literature, 1987

Anlyan, William. Science, 2002

Applewhite, James. Literature, 1995

Atala, Anthony. Science, 2015

Baker, Etta. Fine Arts, 2003

Barber, William J, II, Rev. Dr. Public Service, 2019

Baric, Ralph S. Science, 2020 

Barrax, Gerald. Literature, 2009

Bath, Joanne. Fine Arts, 1996

Bathanti, Joseph. Literature, 2016

Bauer, Margaret Donovan. Literature, 2017

Bayes, Ronald. Literature, 1989
Bearden, Romare. Fine Arts, 1976

Bennett, Betsy M. Public Service, 2014

Betts, Doris. Literature, 1975

Bevington, Helen Smith. Literature, 1973

Biggers, John. Fine Arts, 1995

Birnbaum, Linda S. Science, 2016

Blackmer, Sidney. Fine Arts, 1972

Blakeslee, Sarah. Fine Arts, 1994

Bowers, Henry. Public Service, 2000

Boyles, Harlan E. Public Service, 2000

Bringle, Cynthia. Fine Arts, 2002

Brinkhous, Kenneth. Science, 1969

Brinkley, David. Public Service, 1988

Britt, W. Earl. Public Service, 2019

Brodie, H. Keith. Science, 1990

Brookhart, Maurice. Science, 2008

Brown, Robert J. Public Service, 2016

Brown, William. Fine Arts, 1991

Broyhill, James T. Public Service, 2015

Bruck, Robert. Science, 1997

Bryan, Joseph. Public Service, 1986

Bryan, Jr., Joseph M. Public Service, 2005
Burke, Selma. Fine Arts, 1982

Byer, Kathryn Stripling. Literature, 2001

Caldwell, John. Public Service, 1987

Carroll, F. Ivy. Science, 2010

Cashion, Jerry C. Public Service, 2007

Chambers, Julius L. Public Service, 2002

Chappell, Fred. Literature, 1980

Chase, Nancy. Public Service, 1982

Church, Eric. Fine Arts, 2022

Clayton, Eva. Public Service, 2022

Coates, Albert. Public Service, 1967

Cochrane, William. Public Service, 1992

Cockerham, C. Clark. Science, 1976

Cohen, Myron S. Science, 2013

Coleman, Carolyn Q. Public Service, 2018

Collins, Francis S. Science, 2020

Colvard, Dean. Public Service, 1990

Cooke, S. Tucker. Fine Arts, 2000

Corbett, Kizzmekia S, Dr. Science, 2020

Couch, John. Science, 1964

Cowling, Ellis. Science, 1973

Cox, Joe. Fine Arts, 1993

Cram, John E. Fine Arts, 2013

Cuatrecasas, Pedro. Science, 1988

Dalton, Mary & Harry. Fine Arts, 1983

Daniels, Jonathan. Literature, 1967

Daniels, Julia Jones. Public Service, 1999

Daniels Jr., Frank. Public Service, 1999

David Jr., Edward. Science, 1972

Davidson, Jan. Fine Arts, 2007

Davis, Archie. Public Service, 1979

Davis, Burke. Literature, 1973

Davis, Charles (Chuck). Fine Arts, 1992

deButts, John. Public Service, 1979

Delhom, M. Mellanay. Fine Arts, 1997

Denny Jr, Floyd. Science, 1982

DeSimone, Joseph M. Science, 2009

Dole, Elizabeth. Public Service, 1991

Dykeman, Wilma. Literature, 1985

Eaton, Charles. Literature, 1988

Ebendorf, Robert W. Fine Arts, 2010

Edgell, Marshall. Science, 1994

Edgerton, Clyde. Literature, 1997

Ehle, John. Literature, 1972

Ehle, Rosemary Harris. Fine Arts, 2007

Eliel, Ernest. Science, 1986

Elion, Gertrude. Science, 1989

Ervin, Samuel J. Public Service, 1973

Etchells, John. Science, 1975

Ethridge, Willie Snow. Literature, 1982

Fields, William. Fine Arts, 1974

Finlator, W.W. Public Service, 2001

Fitz-Simons, Foster. Fine Arts, 1976
Fletcher, Inglis. Literature, 1964

Fletcher, William. Science, 2000

Flood, Dudley E. Public Service, 2021

Franklin, John Hope. Literature, 1993
Frazier, Charles. Literature, 2008

Freedman, Gerald. Fine Arts, 2008

Freelon, Philip G. Fine Arts, 2017

Friday, William. Public Service, 1975

Fridovich, Irwin. Science, 1985

Frye, Henry. Public Service, 2007

Gardner, James C. Public Service, 2016

Garvey Jr., Robert. Public Service, 1978

Gatewood, Maud. Fine Arts, 1984

Gerard, Philip. Literature, 2019
Gibbons, Kaye. Literature, 1998

Gilmore, Voit. Public Service, 2004

Golden, Harry. Literature, 1979

Goodmon, James. Public Service, 2000

Goodnight, Ann. Public Service, 2008

Gordy, Walter. Science, 1979

Gottschalk, Carl. Science, 1967
Graham, Billy. Public Service, 1967
Graham, Frank Porter. Public Service 1965

Gray, Robert. Fine Arts, 1998

Green, Jaki Shelton. Literature, 2003
Green, Paul. Literature, 1965
Griffith, Andy. Fine Arts, 1984

Gurganus, Allan. Literature, 1999

Guthrie, Frank. Science, 1983

Hamner Jr., Charles E. Public Service, 2011

Handler, Philip. Science, 1970

Hanes, Frank Borden. Public Service, 2003

Hanes Jr., J. Gordon. Public Service, 1985

Hanes Jr., R. Philip. Fine Arts, 1982

Hardy, Martha Nell. Fine Arts, 2002

Hart, John. M. H., Jr. Literature, 2013

Harrelson, Walter J. Literature, 2004

Harris, Bernice Kelly. Literature, 1966

Hearn Jr., Thomas. Public Service, 2006

Herring, William Dallas. Public Service, 1972

Hill, George Watts. Public Service, 1984

Hill, Robert. Science, 1984

Hitchings, George. Science, 1980

Hodges, Luther. Public Service, 1966

Holshouser Jr., James. Public Service, 2006

Holt, David. Fine Arts, 2021

Horton, Frank. Fine Arts, 1999
Hotelling, Harold. Science, 1972

Howell, Claude. Fine Arts, 1985

Humber, Robert Lee. Public Service, 1968

Hunt, Betty Debnam. Public Service, 2005
Hunt Jr., James Baxter. Public Service, 2003

Hutchison III, Clyde. Science, 1995

Ingram, Robert A. Public Service, 2014

Jackson, Herb. Fine Arts, 1999

James, A. Everette Jr. Fine Arts, 2015

Janty, R.K.M. Science, 2017

Jenrette, Richard. Public Service, 1994

Johnson, Gerald. Literature, 1965

Johnson, Hunter. Fine Arts, 1965

Jones, H. G. Public Service, 2002

Jones, Mary Ellen. Science, 1991

Jordan III, Robert. Public Service, 2001

Kamphoefner, Henry. Fine Arts, 1978

Kellenberger, May G.L. Public Service, 1969

Kenan, Frank. Public Service, 1990

Kenan, Randall. Literature, 2005

Kenan III, Thomas. Public Service, 1997

Kirk, Phillip J., Jr. Public Service, 2013

Kishnani, Priya, Dr. Science, 2022

Koontz, Elizabeth Duncan. Public Service, 1977

Kreps, Juanita. Public Service, 1976

Kuralt, Charles. Public Service, 1987

Lambeth, Thomas Willis. Public Service, 2005

Lancaster, H. Martin. Public Service, 2011

Lee, Howard N. Public Service, 2015

Lee, William. Public Service, 1988

Lefkowitz, Robert. Science, 1987

Leonard, R. Michael. Public Service, 2010

Leslie, Bill. Fine Arts, 2018

Leuchtenburg, William. Literature, 2007

Lindgren, Robert. Fine Arts, 1980

Linney, Romulus. Literature, 2002

Littleton, Harvey. Fine Arts, 1987

London, Edith. Fine Arts, 1988

Long, William Ivey. Fine Arts, 2004

Lucas, John Harding. Public Service, 2013
Lynch, Loretta E. Public Service, 2017

Mackay, Trudy F. C. Science, 2011

Madey, John. Science, 1992

Maron, Margaret. Literature, 2008

Marsalis, Branford. Fine Arts, 2011

Martin, James. Public Service, 2008

Matheson, Elizabeth. Fine Arts, 2004

Mayo, John. Science, 1995

McBride, Patricia. Fine Arts, 2015

McCain, Betty Ray. Public Service, 2009

McCall, Adeline. Fine Arts, 1981

McColl Jr, Hugh L. Public Service, 2009

McCorkle, Jill. Literature, 1999

McFee, Michael A. Literature, 2018

McGlohon, Loonis. Fine Arts, 1989

McKay, Martha. Public Service, 1996

Meredith, Jesse. Public Service, 1991

Merritt, Hiram Houston. Science, 1967

Meymandi, Assad. Fine Arts, 2016

Michaux, Mickey. Public Service, 2022

Miller, Heather. Literature, 1983

Millhouse, Barbara B. Fine Arts, 2018

Mitchell Jr., Burley. Public Service, 2007

Mitchell, Joseph. Literature, 1984

Mitchiner, Reginald. Science, 1977

Modrich, Paul L. Science, 2016

Moore, Dan. Public Service, 1980

Moore, Jeanelle. Public Service, 1980

Moore, Lenard D. Literature, 2014

Morehead, John. Public Service, 1964

Morgan, Robert. Literature, 1991

Morton, Hugh. Public Service, 1983

Murray, Royce W. Science, 2001

Narayan, Jagdish (Jay). Science, 2014

Ness, Kenneth. Fine Arts, 1973

Newman, Margaret S. "Tog." Public Service, 2010

Nicholson, Freda. Public Service, 1994

Niven, Penelope. Literature, 2004

Noland, Kenneth. Fine Arts, 1995

Odell Jr., A.G. Fine Arts, 1966
Owen, Guy. Literature, 1971

Pagano, Joseph. Science, 1996

Park, Roy. Public Service, 1989

Parker, Michael. Literature, 2006

Parker Jr., Roy. Public Service, 2006

Parr, Robert. Science, 1999

Patterson, Jane Smith. Public Service, 2017

Patton, Frances Gray. Literature, 1970

Pearson, Henry. Fine Arts, 1970

Peiser, Mark. Fine Arts, 2009

Pierce, Ovid. Literature, 1969
Pittman, Hobson. Fine Arts, 1968
Poe, Clarence. Public Service, 1964
Powell, William. Literature, 2000

Preyer, Emily Harris. Public Service, 1998

Preyer, L. Richardson. Public Service, 1998

Price, Reynolds. Literature, 1977

Proctor, Deborah S. Public Service, 2019

Ragan, Sam. Fine Arts, 1979

Rash, Ron. Literature, 2011

Rice, Oscar. Science, 1966

Riggs, Stanly, Dr. Science, 2022

Rivera, Jr., Alexander. Fine Arts, 2008

Roberts, Gene. Public Service, 2018

Rodbell, Martin. Science, 1998

Rooke, Leon. Literature, 1990

Roper, William L. Public Service, 2018

Rose, Charlie. Public Service, 2007

Rounds, Glen. Literature, 1981

Royster, Vermont. Literature, 1968

Rubin Jr., Louis. Literature, 1992

Russell, Charles. Literature, 1968

Sabiston Jr., David. Science, 1978

Saltzman, Marvin. Fine Arts, 1998

Sancar, Aziz. Science, 2016

Sanders, Charles. Science, 2006

Sanders, John. Public Service, 1996

Sanford, Terry. Public Service, 1970

Scherr, Mary Ann. Fine Arts, 2003

Schmidt-Nielsen, Knut. Science, 1999

Schopler, Eric. Public Service, 1993

Scott, Ralph. Public Service, 1981

Scott, Robert. Public Service, 1996

Semans, James & Mary. Fine Arts, 1971

Shapiro, Alan. Literature, 2014

Shelton, Henry. Public Service, 1999

Simpson, Bland. Fine Arts, 2005

Simpson, Vollis. Fine Arts, 2011

Sloane, Joseph. Fine Arts, 1977

Smith, Arthur. Fine Arts, 2001

Smith, Dean. Public Service, 2008

Smith, Lee. Literature, 1984

Smithies, Oliver. Science, 1993

Spaulding, Elna. Public Service, 1997

Spaulding, Maria F. Public Service, 2021
Speight, Francis. Fine Arts, 1964

Spencer, Elizabeth. Literature, 1994

Stafford, Darrel. Science, 2007

Stanback, Fred & Alice. Public Service, 2008

Stanford Jr., Charles. Fine Arts, 1969

Stannett, Vivian. Science, 1981
Stem Jr., Thad. Literature, 1974

Stephens, Stanley. Science, 1968

Stephenson, Shelby. Literature, 2001

Sultan, Donald. Fine Arts, 2010

Swalin, Benjamin F. Fine Arts, 1967

Swalin, Maxine. Public Service, 1989

Talley, André Leon. Literature, 2021

Talley Jr., Banks. Public Service, 1995

Taylor, Billy. Fine Arts, 1993
Taylor, James. Fine Arts, 1998

Thornton, William. Science, 2003

Thorp, Bo. Fine Arts, 2009

Thurman, Maxwell. Public Service, 1992
Timberlake, Bob. Fine Arts, 1990

Tynes, Harriet. Public Service, 1978

Tyson, Timothy B. Literature, 2021

Walker, LeRoy T. Public Service, 2004
Walser, Richard. Literature, 1976

Wani, Mansukh. Science, 2005

Ward, Robert. Fine Arts, 1975
Watson, Doc. Fine Arts, 1986
Waynick, Capus. Public Service, 1971

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Literature, 2010
Webb, James E. Public Service, 1971
Wellman, Manly Wade. Literature, 1978

Wheeler, Lawrence J. Fine Arts, 2019

Wicker, Tom. Literature, 1981

Wilfer, Catherine M., MD. Science, 2019

Wilkerson, Annie Louise. Science, 2004

Williams, Jonathan. Fine Arts, 1977

Williams, William T. Fine Arts, 2006

Wilson, Blake S. Science, 2021

Wilson, Edwin Graves. Public Service, 2002

Wilson, Emily Herring. Literature, 2006
Winston, Ellen Black. Public Service, 1974

Wolf, Frederick. Science, 1965

Wolfram, Walt. Public Service, 2013

Wood III, Ira David. Fine Arts, 2014

Woodward, James H. Public Service, 2017

Wyngaarden, James. Science, 1974

Zucchino, David. Literature, 2022


More About North Carolina Award Recipients

Biographical essays are available for each North Carolina Award recipient in the ceremony program for that year. Ceremony programs are accessible here in the NC Digital Collections.

A list of Black and African American recipients of the North Carolina Award can be found here on NCpedia