It’s happening all over the country, but particularly in the South – communities confronting their sometimes ugly racial histories and the part revered historical figures played in them.
In Greensboro the long-simmering question of whether to continue to honor Charles B. Aycock seems to have been decided.
In February UNCG decided to drop the former governor’s name from its auditorium.
Last week the Guilford County Board of Education voted to change the name of Aycock Middle School.
Residents of the Historic Aycock Neighborhood, near the city’s downtown, are now debating new names for their tight-knit and history-proud community.
Today Susan Ladd, columnist at the News & Record, tackles the issue in a conflicted and searching piece on the complicated business of Aycock’s legacy.
Aycock, North Carolina’s governor from 1901 to 1905, was known as the “Education Governor” for his support of the public school system.
He was also a proud white supremacist who made racism a cornerstone of his political appeal.
“Indeed it has become the fashion among Republicans and Populists to assert the unfitness of the negro to rule,” Aycock said in his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for governor. “But when they use the word rule, they confine it to holding office. When we say that the negro is unfit to rule we carry it one step further and convey the correct idea when we declare that he is unfit to vote. To do this we must disfranchise the negro.”
“This movement comes from the people,” Aycock said. “Politicians have been afraid of it and have hesitated, but the great mass of white men in the State are now demanding and have demanded that the matter be settled once and for all. To do so is both desirable and necessary – desirable because it sets the white man free to move along faster than he can go when retarded by the slower movement of the negro.”
In her column Ladd, a white woman who has written powerfully about the division in her own Southern family over her interracial marriage, writes that attempts to erase Aycock’s legacy are also attempts to deny the ugly realities of history. But ultimately, she writes, those oppressed by figures like Aycock and by his policies deserve to have the last word
“The people who were oppressed — or descended from those who were oppressed by the policies Aycock promoted — should been given more weight in the discussion than those who are descended from the oppressors,” Ladd writes. “And that holds true whether you are talking about the name of a sports team, the name of a building or the use of certain words.”
“I come from the race that benefited from segregation and the forced relocation of Native Americans, so I’m going to take a seat on this discussion,” Ladd writes. “Those who come from the race that was discriminated against should be heard first and loudest.”