Chapel Hill, NC – One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the arrival of “The World Almanac and Book of Facts.”
Its thousand pages of fine print are a valuable resource. But there is a problem. When I gave a copy the other day to a friend, he took a look, shook his head, and said, “I can’t read a word of its tiny text.”
But crammed into all that fine print are so many things my friend should know.
This year’s edition includes results of last month’s elections, including House, Senate, and gubernatorial races and information about past elections. There are summaries of other top news stories, history, sports results, population figures, and much more.
I quickly go to the North Carolina section for its short summary of our history and economy. I look for the section called “Famous North Carolinians” to see who made the list. The new almanac includes the following: David Brinkley, Shirley Caesar, John Coltrane, Rick Dees, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Dale Earnhardt Sr., John Edwards, Ava Gardner, Richard Jordan Gatling, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, O. Henry, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Michael Jordan, William Rufus King, Charles Kuralt, Meadowlark Lemon, Dolley Madison, Thelonious Monk, Edward R. Murrow, Richard Petty, James K. Polk, Charlie Rose, Carl Sandburg, Enos Slaughter, Dean Smith, James Taylor, and Thomas Wolfe.
Not a bad list, I guess, though some of these folks are not as famous as they once were.
If you are looking for a way to entertain guests at a New Year’s party, here is an idea: share the almanac list with your friends, give each a pencil and pad, and ask them to write down 10 people they think should be added to the list. Then have everybody share lists and explain their thinking.
Here are some people who should be in contention:
Virginia Dare, the first child of English parents born in the new world.
Blackbeard, the pirate Edward Teach.
Daniel Boone, who spent much of his early life in North Carolina.
Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins.
Nina Simone, singer and songwriter
Doc Watson, blind musician and songwriter.
Earl Scruggs, bluegrass.
Arthur Smith, country music performer and songwriter.
From politics and public life:
Josephus Daniels, founder of the News & Observer and secretary of the navy.
Sam Ervin, U.S. senator.
Jesse Helms, five-term U.S. senator.
Jim Hunt, four-term North Carolina governor.
Julius Chambers, revered civil rights lawyer.
Erskine Bowles, chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.
Mick Mulvaney, who grew up in Charlotte, acting chief of staff for President Donald Trump, and
William Barber, Goldsboro minister and national civil rights leader.
Stephen Curry, NBA player.
Jim Valvano, even more famous in death.
Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, rival Duke and UNC basketball coaches.
Joe Gibbs, football coach and NASCAR team owner.
Of course, you and your friends will have other candidates. If your group gets tired of coming up with new names, give them the task of crossing out a number of people from the almanac’s list.
For instance, most people would say they never heard of William Rufus King. They would suggest that his name come off the list.
King was born in North Carolina in 1796. After he moved to Alabama, he was elected to the U.S. Senate and in 1852 was elected vice president. He died on April 18, 1853, after serving for only six weeks.
King and future president James Buchanan, both unmarried, were close friends and lived together for many years. Some historians suggest that they were more than friends.
Will your friends keep King on the list?
Whether they do or not, I wish you and them a happy, and informed, New Year.
Send me your suggestions of famous North Carolinians to add to World Almanac’s list at and I will forward your message to the almanac staff.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sunday 11:00 am and Tuesday at 5:00 pm on UNC-TV. The program also airs on the North Carolina Channel Tuesday at 8:00 pm and other times.
To view prior programs: video.unctv.org/show/nc-bookwatch/episodes/