When James K. Polk visited UNC in 1847, students camped out in anticipation of his arrival.
Nearly two centuries later, students pitched tents again hoping to hear Barack Obama, the nation’s 44th president, speak.
Campus visits from a sitting U.S. president are rare occurrences — Obama will be the sixth president to do so at UNC. Retired professor William Leuchtenburg’s 1994 work, “The Presidents Come to Chapel Hill,” details each event.
James K. Polk
When Polk visited his alma mater in 1847, Chapel Hill residents waited in tents in anticipation for their president’s carriage to arrive.
Polk graduated from UNC in 1818.
Thirty years later, he made the nine-hour carriage ride between Raleigh and Chapel Hill with an entourage of supporters to speak at the University’s graduation.
Buchanan spoke on campus in 1859, two years before the Civil War, about the importance of Southern states remaining in the Union.
Buchanan advised his audience to devote themselves to the principles of the U.S. Constitution in order to protect their liberties.
Accounts of the event said that the president flirted with young N.C. women.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
ech at Woollen Gymnasium in 1938 occurred shortly before the onset of World War II. It was broadcast by more than 225 radio stations in the United States and overseas. Roosevelt was given an honorary UNC degree.
“I … am proud to become an alumnus of UNC, typifying as it does American thought through American action,” he said.
John F. Kennedy
Kennedy spoke in 1961 to 40,000 people on University Day.
UNC history professor James Leloudis said Kennedy used his visit to Chapel Hill in part to show appreciation for N.C. Gov. Terry Sanford’s endorsement for the 1960 election against Richard Nixon.
Former president Bill Clinton spoke in 1993 at the University’s 200th anniversary.
“There was an enormous sense of celebration,” Leuchtenburg said.
Obama’s address will be part of his appeal to Congress to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling in July.
Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor and political expert, said appealing to student voters is part of Obama’s recipe for victory in November.
“Chapel Hill has always been filled with a progressive spirit,” Clinton said in his University Day address.
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