1. John C. Calhoun - Abbeville
Born in Abbeville on March 8, 1825, John C. Calhoun rose to prominence in the political world as a Congressman, Secretary of War, and then seventh Vice President. He was the first Vice President to resign from office, after which time he served as a Senator, and then was Secretary of State following a failed bid for the Presidency.
2. Chris Rock - Andrews
Chris Rock got his start as a stand-up comedian. Eddie Murphy took notice of him, mentored him, and offered him his first film role. And as they say, the rest is history! He was born February 7, 1965 in Andrews and has seven siblings.
With a population of 2,550 in 2021, Andrews is a small town located in both Georgetown and Williamsburg counties of the lowcountry region of the state. It offers shopping and dining on Main Street, an interesting look back into the 1900s at the Old Town Hall Museum, and water fun just outside the town limits with the Black River.
3. James Brown - Barnwell
Beloved musician James Brown was also affectionately known as "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business", as well as "Godfather of Soul", "Mr. Dynamite", and "Soul Brother No. 1". He was born in Barnwell on May 3, 1933.
Barnwell is located about 35 miles southeast of Aiken and has a population of 4,489 in 2021. Barnwell (along with Abbeville) was a finalist in the inaugural SC Great Community Competition, which awarded grant money to smaller communities that had successfully completed a project that had a positive impact on their community. Its purpose was also to incentivize the communities to continue planning future similar projects. Take a peek at the impressive Barnwell video presentation for the competition:
4. David Thornton - Cheraw
David Thornton was born June 12, 1953 in Cheraw. An actor, his more familiar roles have been in John Q, Home Alone 3, Law & Order, and The Notebook.
5. John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie - Cheraw
Famed musician Dizzy Gillespie was born October 21, 1917, also in Cheraw. He's most known as a seminal figure of the bebop movement and for playing on a trumpet that was bent at a 45-degree angle, a modification he felt improved its sound!
Also known as "The Prettiest Town in Dixie," Cheraw has a population of 4,963 as of 2021 and is located along the Pee Dee River in Chesterfield County, the northeastern midlands region of South Carolina. You'll want to visit the Gillespie Home Site Park to see the eclectic stainless steel benches, modern sculptures, a historical marker, and to follow the actual notes to
Salt Peanuts on the steel fence, all in memory of Gillespie, who died in 1993. If you visit the third weekend in October, you can also attend the jazz festival in his honor. There's more to Cheraw than being this celebrity's birthplace, of course ... enjoy plenty of history, wonderful dining, outdoor adventure, and more in this quaint little town.
6. Ronald McNair - Lake City
NASA astronaut Ronald McNair was born in Lake City on October 21, 1950 and died January 28, 1986 during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Lake City is the largest of the small towns in this list, with a whopping population of 5,929 in 2021. Well-known for its love for the arts, the town is full of beautiful, colorful mural art throughout and hosts a nine-day art competition festival each year called Artfields, which landed Lake City a spot on Travel + Leisure's list of Best Places to Travel in May in 2019. There's also a museum in the town where you can learn all about the life and legacy of Ronald McNair.
7. Mary McLeod Bethune - Mayesville
Born on July 10, 1875 in the tiny town of Mayesville, Mary McLeod Bethune was first known as a pioneer in education but also became a philanthropist, humanitarian, and was one of the earliest black female activists that helped lay the foundation for the modern civil rights movement. Her memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, D. C. was the first memorial to honor an African American built on public land and the first portrait statue of an American woman on a public site in the city.
Mayesville has a population of only 550 as of 2021. There's not a whole lot to be found in such a tiny town, located in Sumter County, which is in the midlands area. It certainly does have its share of charm though ... pictured here is the circa 1895 R. J. Mayes House, a breathtaking mansion that was built on land of over five acres owned by the town founder. It was for sale in 2019 and sold for $550,000. What a piece of history to own!
8. Eartha Kitt - North
Actress and singer Eartha Kitt was born in the town of North on January 17, 1927. One of the best "rags to riches" stories, she was born in the cotton fields to a sharecropper mother of African-American and Cherokee Native American descent, and her father's identity is unknown. Her mother gave her away, and she dropped out of high school at 15 to work in a Brooklyn factory, living as a teenager in friends' homes and in the subways.
She became well-known in the 1950s and '60s for her Santa Baby recordings, which was just the beginning for her. She caught the attention of Orson Welles, who called her "the most exciting girl in the world" and cast her in his Paris stage production of Faust.
North is another tiny town in this list, with a 2021 population of just 689. It's located at the intersection of Highways 321 and 178 in Orangeburg County, a part of the lowcountry region of South Carolina. Named after John F. North, who was instrumental in bringing the railroad to the area, there's an auxiliary Air Force field in North, a beautiful Veterans memorial, and a few restaurants worth a look, including Rumy's Chicken on the Run, Huffman's Fish N Chick, and Laird's Bar-B-Q Pitt.
9. Viola Davis - Saint Matthews
One of the few performers to have been awarded an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony and the only African-American to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting, Viola Davis is a phenomenal actress and producer born on August 11, 1965 in Saint Matthews. She's been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by
Time in 2012 and 2017, and in 2020, she was ranked ninth on the New York Times list of the greatest actors of the 21st century.
Another "rags to riches" success story, Viola Davis had a very difficult start in life, taken to jail with her mother, who was arrested during a civil rights protest. She has described herself as having "lived in abject poverty and dysfunction" during her childhood, and has memories living in rat-infested and condemned apartments.
With a 2021 population of 1,786, the town of Saint Matthews is located in Calhoun County, part of the midlands area of the state. There have been other notable people from Saint Matthews, including other performers and NFL players. One of the most charming characteristics of the town is its annual Purple Martin Festival when it honors the little bird that was found to help control the insect population. The event draws people from across the state each spring.
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