Social studies teacher continues quest to strip name of UNC Chapel Hill founder from Halifax County school

Social studies teacher Rodney Pierce on Monday asked the Halifax County Board of Education to remove the name of UNC Chapel Hill founder and former governor William R. Davie from a middle school in Roanoke Rapids.

Pierce cited Davie’s enslavement of Black people on plantations in Halifax County and Chester County in South Carolina as the reason the name should be removed from William R. Davie Middle STEM Academy.

Davie was a Founding Father, accomplished statesman and military officer who served in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, Pierce noted.

“Davie was also someone who enslaved people who not only look like the folk on this board, but also [people who look like] a vast majority of the students and employees of this district,” Pierce said.

He told the board that the U.S. Census shows Davie owned 36 slaves in Halifax County in 1790 and 116 slaves in 1820 while living in South Carolina.

Rodney Pierce

Pierce also pointed out that Davie helped to shape the Three-Fifths Clause in the original U.S. Constitution that counted Blacks as three-fifths of a human. The clause gave the South disproportionate representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Why after nearly 80 years would the board allow that man’s name to remain on the building when he wouldn’t have even recognized the majority of the people who pass through it daily as human beings?” Pierce asked during a remote meeting of the school board.

Pierce attended Davie as a student and taught social studies at the school from 2015-19. He has two children who will attend the school in the fall.

“When I attended Davie [school], I didn’t know who he was,” Pierce said. “When I came back as a teacher and learned who he was, I made sure that I taught my students about him.”

Pierce now teaches in the Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools district.

The board took no action on Pierce’s request.

Newly elected board Chairwoman Joyce Lashley told Pierce that the board would address the matter later.

Pierce wants Davie’s name replaced with that of James Cheek, a native of Roanoke Rapids and a respected educator who served as president of Howard and Shaw universities.

“Dr. [James] Cheek was named ‘Washingtonian of the Year in 1980 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1983,” Pierce said. “No one else from Halifax County can claim that. Not many people from North Carolina can claim that.”

Pierce told Policy Watch last month that the Cheek family approved of renaming the school in honor of the patriarch.

Meanwhile, a petition Pierce started on change.org has nearly 2,000 signatures.

William R. Davie

“I’ve been trying to get this name changed for over three years,” Pierce said. “I was asked to wait and to drum up community support … I did what I was asked. I waited and gathered community support.”

Pierce’s request comes as statues and monuments across the nation that honor white supremacists and racists and Confederate heroes are being removed from public squares.

In Raleigh recently, a statue of white supremacist Josephus Daniels waving at the old News & Observer building from Nash Square was removed by the Daniels family. Josephus Daniels used the paper to promote white supremacy after gaining control of it in the 1890s.

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