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Our Famous Faces directory shares some prominent names in history who hailed from the Carolinas.

Mary McLeod Bethune
Andrew Jackson
Ronald McNair
Marie Boozer
The Swamp Fox
Robert Smalls

Mary McLeod Bethune

July 10, 1875 - May 18, 1955

Educator, Author, Civil Rights Leader, Friend of Eleanor Roosevelt

famous-carolina-faces-Mary-Bethune-Florida-State-ArchivesThe New York Times published a story which called her, “one of the most potent factors in the growth of interracial good will in America.”  A Washington Post article said, “So great were her dynamism and force that it was almost impossible to resist her.”  Eleanor Roosevelt called her a “dear friend.”

Born in Sumter County, in the tiny community of Mayesville, Mary Jane McLeod was the child of two former slaves, and the 15th of 17 children – most born into slavery.  Her mother worked for her former master and the young Mary accompanied her mother in delivering clean clothes to the family. Her pivotal moment occurred when she picked up a book in the children’s nursery and was told she couldn’t read it by a white child.  According to many reports, it was at that moment that she decided that the ability to read and write was the only difference between colored and white folks.  And so she found a way to become the first and only in her family to attend school – and learn to read.

With the help of her teacher, she attended Scotia Seminary in North Carolina, and later, Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.  Thwarted in her desire to become a missionary (nobody needed black missionaries, she was told), she became a teacher, married Albertus Bethune, had a son, and moved to the Daytona Beach area to start a school.  With pens made of elderberry juice and burned wood, and desks from old crates, she used $1.50 to open the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. Her husband left the family, and returned to South Carolina where he lived until his death in 1918.

The school received donations, including $62,000 from John D. Rockefeller, and she kept the doors open throughout the Great Depression.  As she became an ever-stronger force for civil rights for women, she gained the respect of the nation’s leaders.

Here are a few of her accomplishments:

National President of the National Association of Colored Women; Advisor to President Herbert Hoover on the subject of Child Health; Founder of the National Council of Negro Women; Director of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration; Served on the “Black Cabinet” for President Franklin Roosevelt; called one of America’s ten greatest women, by journalist Ida Tarbell, in 1930; present at the founding of the United Nations; advisor to five U.S. Presidents; inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame; US Postal Service stamp issued in her honor in 1985.

Perhaps most fascinating is her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, who valued her political wisdom and dynamic personality and provided ongoing access to the President.  They met, traveled together and enjoyed a close personal friendship until Mary Bethune’s death at age 79.

Of the National Council of Negro Women, which she founded in 1935, she said, “It is our pledge to make a lasting contribution to all that is finest and best in America, to cherish and enrich her heritage of freedom and progress by working for the integration of all her people regardless of race, creed, or national origin, into her spiritual, social, cultural, civic, and economic life, and thus aid her to achieve the glorious destiny of a true and unfettered democracy.”

Andrew Jackson

March 15, 1767 - June 8, 1845

famous-carolina-faces-andrew-jacksonOur nation’s 7th president, Andrew Jackson, has left the front side of the $20, but he’s still  a transformative presence in our nation’s history.

The native of South Carolina was born to Irish immigrants near Lancaster, South Carolina and was orphaned by 14, a year after he volunteered to fight the British in the Revolutionary War. He was known as a true Washington outsider, even as he was elected president on the strength of his reputation as a war hero for his exploits during the 1812 war against the British.

David Feller, contributor to a U.S. News and World Report article  on our seventh president said, “Jackson's importance in American history is beyond question. He dominated his times so thoroughly that they came to bear his name: the Age of Jackson, or the Jacksonian Era. He is the only president, indeed the only person, to have a whole period of American history named for him.”

A few more interesting facts:

He helped found the Democratic Party. Some say that its donkey symbol can be traced back to Jackson, who was called a “jackass” during his candidacy for the presidency. Instead of taking offense, he liked the nickname and adopted it. He championed the rights of common people (except when it came to Native Americans – he was instrumental in the forced removal of the Cherokee from their lands – what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”) Although, some say he had an adopted Indian son. The man was complicated.

He was the first President to have been a prisoner of war – imprisoned by the British while a teen and serving as a courier for the continental forces. He was the first President to have been born in a log cabin, ridden a train, and been the object of an assassination attempt – two shots, at close range, missed. Finally, Andrew Jackson believed the earth was flat all of his life.

His wife, Rachel, died after he was elected, but before he could take office. The story of their marriage was the subject of much controversy because he married her before her divorce was final from her first husband. They eventually married again -- legally.

At his funeral, the story goes that President Jackson’s parrot had to be removed from the burial because the bird was swearing at the crowd. It has been said that the creature must have learned his vocabulary from his master.

More: The area surrounding his boyhood home is now Andrew Jackson State Park, one of the park service’s most popular attractions. Spanning 360 acres, the park includes a museum (Docents in period garb? Check!), trails and a fishing lake. Plus, don’t miss a replica of a one-room, 18th century schoolhouse!

Ronald McNair

October 21, 1950 - January 28, 1986


famous-carolina-faces-robert-mcnairLake City, South Carolina, is a small town, formed in the 1700s when trails were followed and settlers built farms in the sandy soil. The railroad came, roads criss-crossed, and strawberries, beans and other crops flourished in the area.

Ronald McNair’s hometown was fairly typical of the South, and in the late 50s, the bright young boy had difficulty finding the books to fuel his dream of traveling in space. The local librarian overcame her reluctance to release books to the African-American child, and Ron was off on his own exploration. A graduate of North Carolina A&T University, he earned a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT and joined the astronaut program. He traveled in space – and played his saxophone during the trip.

His second space flight resulted in tragedy when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off. Although his life was cut short, it served as inspiration for many young men who believed in themselves, including Charles Bolden, another SC native and African-American who serves as head of NASA.

Marie Boozer


Bad Scarlett

Bad-Scarlett-coverMarie Boozer was a beautiful, brilliant, and notorious strawberry-blonde who established a remarkable life. She lived in Columbia, was noted as “beautiful” by General Sherman in his memoirs, and was mentioned by famous South Carolina diarist Mary Chestnut as “a beauty that none can deny.”

Bad Scarlett: The Extraordinary Life of the Notorious Southern Beauty Marie Boozer reveals the true, redemptive story of a young belle from South Carolina who left Columbia with the union troops, transformed herself into a scandalous divorcée in New York and London, became a Paris courtesan defying police authority, and ultimately found herself a countess and world citizen – while her half-sisters raised families in pioneer Florida. In this book, myths about Marie Boozer are demolished, and Civil War military heroes are acknowledged.

Author, historian, and professor emeritus at Emory University, Bell Irvin Wiley deemed Marie Boozer “one of the four most famous southern women of the Civil War,” and popular historian Manly Wade Wellman wrote that she was the basis for the character of Scarlett O'Hara. Finally, Marie's entire story is told.
Praise for Bad Scarlett:
Alexander Moore, historian of South Carolina: “The real-life Marie Boozer had a character that was braver, more independent, and far grander than any of the legends about her.”

Rosalie Foster, historian and president, North Brevard Heritage Foundation: "Marie Boozer was a liberated woman for her time and lived an interesting and exciting life with many trials and tribulations. In a well-written biography, Deborah Pollack's extensive research to right the wrong about Marie Boozer's life is extraordinary…”

Author contact: Deborah C. Pollack |
More about Columbia.

The Swamp Fox

February 26, 1732 - February 27, 1795

American Revolution Hero

famous-carolina-faces-swamp-fox-francis-marionGeneral Brigadier Francis Marion, aka the “Swamp Fox,” is still disliked by British historians who’ve called him a “terrorist” for the manner in which he fought for American Independence.

Here in the United States, historians call him the “father of modern guerilla warfare,” a term that fits with his strike-and-run method of attack.

He was born in Georgetown, SC in 1732 to French Huguenots, a grandson of Benjamin Marion who moved from France to what would become South Carolina in 1690. His first military successes came during the region’s expedition against the Cherokee. Later, he was a delegate to the SC Provincial Congress.

Promotions in the military came swiftly, and after a fortuitous broken ankle which prevented his capture by the British, he began his campaign to fight for independence in a most unorthodox way.

His band of men included Native Americans, Africans and white farmers who picked up arms and followed him. They disrupted communications, pilfered arms, food and other supplies, and raided British forces almost non-stop.

Marion participated in the Battle of King’s Mountain, which helped turn the tide of war in the south in favor of the Americans. After he was appointed Brigadier General of the SC Militia, he and his forces raided Georgetown and captured Fort Watson and Fort Motte. The man knew how to wage a most successful military campaign against the most conventional forces of men like Banastre Tarleton, who called him “that wily ole fox of the swamps.”

Actually, the swamps were familiar territory to Marion, who understood how to maneuver through them without harm. South Carolinians consider him a hero, in part because he was instrumental in helping to turn around the war which led to American independence.

General Marion’s militiamen re-built his home after the Revolution. At age 53, he married Mary Esther Videau. The couple lived at Pond Bluff, on the south edge of the Santee Swamp. With Oscar, (his lifelong servant who fought beside him in battle) the Marions frequently traveled to former battle sites. On Feb. 27, 1795 Marion, age 62, died at his home at Pond Bluff, presently under Lake Marion, and is buried at Belle Isle, near the town of St. Stephen.

Visitors remain fascinated by the Swamp Fox. The Swamp Fox Murals Trails Society helped to created murals depicting various events in the life of General Marion. Murals are sprinkled in appropriate locations throughout the area bordered by Lake Marion in the Southeastern section of the state. Geo-caching is one popular way to located this portrayals of history. Visit for directions and fascinating stories, as well as information about the upcoming Living History Encampment.

Robert Smalls

April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915

famous-carolina-faces-robert-smallsRobert Smalls was born in Beaufort, SC, to a house servant named Lydia Polite. His father was never identified, but most historians believe it was Henry McKee, the son of the plantation owner where Lydia’s family lived and worked.

Young Robert was carried around Beaufort by Mr. McKee, and enjoyed a life of relative ease, however his mother was determined to show him the plight of those who were enslaved. She made sure he was introduced to slave life on the plantation, and he even was exposed to the town whipping post, to see how others were treated. When he was 12, Lydia persuaded Henry McKee to allow young Robert to work in Charleston, doing odd jobs and learning about life, especially on the waterfront.

He found work on a boat called The Planter and gained the skills to become an excellent pilot. Robert married at 19 and had two children with his wife, Hannah Jones, who was also a slave. Knowing they were all at the mercy of their masters, he concocted a plot and on May 13, 1862, he and several other enslaved men brought their families on board The Planter and they sailed past confederate blockades and into the arms of the Union Navy. Freedom was theirs!

He was given an audience with President Abraham Lincoln, and worked for union forces during the rest of the war. Eventually, he achieved the rank of Major General in the South Carolina Militia during Reconstruction.

And here things really become interesting. He returned to Beaufort after the war, and purchased his former master’s house at 511 Prince Street. His mother, Lydia, lived with the family as did his former master’s widow, who was quite elderly. Both remained with the Smalls until their deaths.

He was a delegate to several Republican National Conventions and was elected to the SC House of Representatives and the Senate. During that time, he authored state legislation providing for South Carolina to have the first free and compulsory public Schools in the US. He also founded the Republican Party of South Carolina.

In 1874, he was elected to the US House of Representatives, holding the fifth, then seventh Congressional seats.

Robert Smalls lived a bold and colorful life. He died at 75 and is buried in his family’s plot in the churchyard of the Tabernacle Baptist church in downtown Beaufort. He has 75 living descendants, however none bear the Smalls name. His home is occasionally open for tours and clearly marked in the historic section of Beaufort.