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

  • Monument Name

    James K. Polk, UNC (Chapel Hill)

  • Type


  • Subjects

    Historic Political Figures

    Educational Institutions

  • Creator

    Stephen H. Smith, Marshville, NC, Sculptor

  • City

    Chapel Hill

  • County


  • Description

    A full-body sculpture of James Knox Polk, the 11th president of the United States (1845-1849), is made of bronze. 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 Knox Polk. November 2, 1795 - June 15, 1849,", (accessed May 27, 2023) Link

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

      The White House. " James K. Polk. The 11th President of the United States,", (accessed May 27, 2023) 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

  • 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 memorial marking the birthplace of President James K. Polk is located in Pineville, NC.

    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.

    [Additional information from NCpedia editors at the State Library of North Carolina: This person enslaved and owned other people. Many Black and African people, their descendants, and some others were enslaved in the United States until the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865. It was common for wealthy landowners, entrepreneurs, politicians, institutions, and others to enslave people and use enslaved labor during this period. To read more about the enslavement and transportation of African people to North Carolina, visit To read more about slavery and its history in North Carolina, visit - Government and Heritage Library, 2023.]

  • Location

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

  • 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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