Documenting the American South

Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina
Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina
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Source:  James K. Polk

  • Monument Name

    James K. Polk Monument, UNC (Chapel Hill)

  • Type


  • Subjects

    Historic Political Figures

    Educational Institutions

  • Creator

    Stephen H. Smith, Marshville, NC, Sculptor

  • City

    Chapel Hill

  • County


  • Description

    This monument, made of bronze, is a full-body sculpture of James Knox Polk, the 11th president of the United States (1845-1849). He was the only graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to become president. The statue depicts Polk as a young man holding folded papers in his right hand; his left arm is outstretched as if he is gesticulating to a crowd during an oration. He stands atop a carved outline of the United States.

  • Custodian

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Dedication Date

    October 12, 1997

  • Decade


  • Geographic Coordinates

    35.913800 , -79.050720 View in Geobrowsemap pin

  • Supporting Sources

      "James K. Polk," The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History, (accessed January 30, 2012) Link

      "James K. Polk," Wikipedia, (accessed May 17, 2012) Link

      “Carolina Celebrates its 204th Birthday,” The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC), October 1, 1997

      “Carrie Anne Spinelli, Community Relations: Morehead Planetarium,” Orange County Arts Commission, (accessed January 30, 2012) Link

      “Stephen H. Smith, Sculptor,”, (accessed December 1, 2016) Link

      “UNC President Molly Broad to Speak at 204th University Day,” Carolina News Services, October 8, 1997, (accessed January 30, 2012) Link

  • Public Site


  • Materials & Techniques


  • Monument Dedication and Unveiling

    The monument was dedicated on University Day, 1997 at 3:30pm.

  • Subject Notes

    James Polk served as President of the United States from 1845-1849. As a Democrat, he had previously represented Tennessee in the House of Representatives and as governor. He won the 1844 election against Henry Clay and as President is remembered for his successes in foreign policy, his victory in the Mexican-American War, establishing a treasury system which lasted for over half a century, and securing passage for the Walker tariff of 1846.
    Polk was born and raised in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1818.

    The sculptor Stephen H. Smith, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, also created the statue of Benjamin N. Duke that stands on a pedestal on Duke University's East Campus, First Flight Centennial Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, 65th General Hospital Memorial at Duke Hospital in Durham, and Martin Luther King, Jr. statue in Fayetteville.

  • Location

    The statue stands in the center of the Genevieve Morehead Memorial Art Rotunda surrounded by portraits from Mrs. Morehead’s private collection.

  • Landscape

    The rotunda where the Polk statue is located is inside Morehead Planetarium, the first of its kind in the Southeast.

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