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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 Winners; North Carolina Awards ceremony programs (NC Digital Collections)

Four North Carolina Awards programs.  From right to left: A white program with an image of a gold medal hanging on a red, white, and blue ribbon. A red program reading "The North Carolina Awards 1984" in gold foil. A cream colored program with an image of medal that reads "The North Carolina Awards." A black program with "The North Carolina Awards 1985" and the state seal in gold foil.On 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 leafy branches.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.