As with many famous characters from the past, Greensboro’s most notable citizens don’t necessarily possess degrees of higher education or squeaky-clean legal records. But what they lack in classic virtues, they make up for with wit, gumption, and the talent it takes to claim a place in the history books. From artists and actors to lawmakers and titans of industry, Greensboro citizens will be remembered for years to come. Some notable citizens include the author O.Henry and broadcaster Edward R. Murrow.
- In 1918, the upscale O. Henry Hotel opened, taking up more than a block. Another luxury hotel, the King Cotton, came in 1927.
- In 1920, the nine-story Southeastern Building opened, one of the highest buildings in the city at the time. Three years later, the 17-story Jefferson Standard Building (now Lincoln National) broke its record.
- The 1920s also brought the Carolina Theatre, the lofty Guilford Building, the block-long Southern Railway Train Station, the collegiate-like Cone Export and Commission Building, the Masonic Temple and others, all of which still stand today.
- In 1990, three high-rises, the 19-story Renaissance Plaza, the 21-story structure now called Wachovia Tower and the 21-story Jefferson-Pilot Building connected to the old Jefferson Building, created a new Greensboro skyline.
- In the mid 1980s, what are now called the Lofts Apartments opened as a row of commercial buildings along the 300 block of South Elm Street, with the complex extending to North Davie Street.
- Writer Albion Tourgee was a well-known lawyer during the 1870s. He outraged Greensboro locals by demanding equality for newly freed slaves. This kind of social heresy brought threats from the Ku Klux Klan and ostracism from the white establishment. However, some local lawyers recognized Tourgee’s keen legal talents and admired him.
“A Fool’s Errand,” regarding the Ku Klux Klan and Reconstruction Era, was set in the city Tourgee called Verdant (verde in Latin means literally green in color). The book sold more than 200,000 copies.
- Tourgee later settled in New York State. In 1896 he represented Homer Plessey in the landmark Supreme Court case of Plessey vs. Ferguson surrounding the legality of racial segregation. Tourgee argued that segregation was unconstitutional, but lost his case. The so-called “separate but equal” policies continued in the South for another 60 years.
- On February 1, 1960, four N.C. A&T University freshmen – Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair Jr.) and David Richmond sat down at the whites-only Woolworth dime store lunch counter and refused to leave when denied service. Six months later, Woolworth and the nearby Kress Dime Store integrated.
- The sit-ins, which brought hundreds of students from local black and white colleges downtown to join the effort, was entirely nonviolent.
- Historians regard the sit-ins, which inspired similar actions throughout the South, as a watershed event in the national civil rights movement.
- The old Woolworth store is now the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.
Edward R. Murrow
- Pioneer radio and television broadcaster Edward R. Murrow was born in southern Guilford County on the banks of Polecat Creek. He would later joke about the creek, saying that a polecat is a nice way of saying skunk.
- Murrow left Guilford County with his parents when he was about five to move across the country to Washington, where he graduated from Washington State University. He eventually went to work for the CBS Radio network and was sent to London during the early days of World War II. His baritone, dooms-day voice became famous when he broadcast from rooftops, as German bombs fell on the city. He began each dispatch with the words, “This is London.”
- Later, as a television commentator, his most famous show condemned the communist-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the height of McCarthyism. He famously ended broadcasts with the catchphrase “Good night, and good luck.”
- Murrow occasionally returned to southern Guilford County to visit his many relatives in the Centre community along N.C. Hwy 62. After one trip, he boarded a train in Greensboro and met his future wife, Janet. Some years after Murrow’s death in 1965, she donated one of her husband’s Seville Row-made World War II correspondence uniforms to the Greensboro Historical Museum. His bust stands in the park behind the museum.
Red and Arthur Prysock
- The Prysock brothers, Red and Arthur, enjoy a cult following among music aficionados. They grew up in the all-black Terra Cotta community in west Greensboro.
- Arthur Prysock had a rock and roll hit record in the 1950s, “I Didn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night.” Many of his other hits were made famous by other singers, including the popular song, “When I Fall in Love.”
- Red Prysock was a saxophonist, who often teamed with his brother and recorded many albums himself. He was adept in many musical niches including swing, doo-wop and the blues.
- David Ackerman, better known as “Stringbean,” was on the popular television show “Hee Haw” during the 1970s.
- A Kentucky native, he lived in Greensboro for some time and did a radio program each morning in the studios of WBIG Radio. He performed live on the banjo with several other musicians.
In addition to “Hee Haw,” Ackerman later went on to star with the Grand Ole Opry.
- Randall Jarrell served a two-year appointment as Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress.
- In 1961, Jarrell won the National Book Award for his poetry collection, “The Woman at the Washington Zoo.”
- Following his military service in World War II until his death in Chapel Hill in 1965, the Tennessee-native taught at what’s now UNC-Greensboro, an all-female school at the time. The best and brightest women enrolled at UNCG because many colleges didn’t accept women.
- Born on May 20, 1768, in the Quaker settlement of New Garden, North Carolina, in Guilford County.
- Spouse of the fourth President of the United States, James Madison, and First Lady of the United States from 1809 to 1817
- Occasionally acted as First Lady during the administration of Thomas Jefferson, fulfilling the ceremonial functions more usually associated with the President’s wife, since Jefferson was a widower.
- Several of Dolley Madison’s gowns and belongins can be viewed at the Greensboro Historical Museum.
- Charles Steadman was a native of Chatham County and a Wilmington resident for many years before moving to Greensboro to practice law.
- In 1910 at age 70, he was elected to the district’s congressional seat and remained there until his death in 1930. He served in the Civil War in one of the first battles, at Bethel, and was with Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.
- Steadman became the last Civil War veteran to serve in either the U.S. House or the Senate.
Charlotte Hawkins Brown
- Born Lottie Hawkins in Henderson, North Carolina June 11, 1883.
- Her dedication to educating young African Americans led the tiny, one-room school she taught at in Sedalia into evolving to become an accredited school and junior college, renamed the Palmer Memorial Institute in honor of her benefactor.
- Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum at Historic Palmer Memorial Institute, est. 1902, is North Carolina’s only state supported historic site to recognize of woman and one of the first to honor an African American.