Education, Higher Ed, race, What's Race Got To Do With It?

UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees votes to remove white supremacist names from buildings

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to remove the names of three white supremacists from buildings on the school’s campus.

The names of Charles B. Aycock, Julian S. Carr and Josephus Daniels will all be removed from the buildings that have long held their names, beginning Wednesday afternoon.

“Aycock, Daniels, and Carr led the Democratic Party’s white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900,” the school’s Commission on History, Race & A Way Forward wrote in its resolution on the issue. “Aycock was a key strategist in both campaigns and ran as the party’s gubernatorial candidate in 1900; Daniels, editor and publisher of the Raleigh News and Observer, served as chief propagandist; and Carr, a Durham industrialist and leader of the United Confederate Veterans in North Carolina, provided financial backing.”

“Together, they fought to disenfranchise black men and to establish the regime of Jim Crow,” the commission wrote. “Which for more than half a century denied black North Carolinians equal justice and the fundamental rights of citizenship

The name of Thomas Ruffin Sr. will also be removed from a building on campus. Ruffin Sr. was a North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice. Known as a particularly cruel enslaver, he used his legal position to ignore legal precedents and grant more power to his fellow enslavers and expand their ability to brutalize enslaved people.

“His ruling in State v. Mann is known as ’the coldest and starkest defense of the physical violence inherent in slavery that ever appeared in an American judicial opinion,’” the Commission on History, Race & A Way Forward wrote in describing his legacy.

A portrait of Ruffin Sr. was recently removed from the historic Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough.

But the building named for him at UNC will still carry the Ruffin name. It was also named for his son, Thomas Ruffin Jr. The trustees found that there wasn’t enough evidence about Ruffin’s son to remove his name, but signs on inside and outside the building will make clear it is named for Thomas Ruffin Jr.

Thomas Ruffin Sr.

Students and faculty quickly criticized that decision, pointing out that historical evidence indicates Thomas Ruffin Jr.  — a Confederate officer and one-term legislator —  also held white supremacist views. He publicly argued for amnesty for Ku Klux Klan members charged with murder in Alamance County in 1873.

Charles B. Aycock was a prominent UNC alumnus and governor of North Carolina whose political career was built on white supremacist rhetoric. Other schools, including UNC-Greensboro, have already removed his name from buildings.

Julian Carr, a wealthy industrialist and UNC trustee, was also Ku Klux Klan member who publicly bragged about beating a black woman during his speech at the dedication of the Silent Sam Confederate monument in 1913. That statue was toppled by protesters in 2018.

Josephus Daniels

Josephus Daniels was publisher of The News & Observer, a position he used to promote white supremacist policies and stoke violence against Black communities in North Carolina. A statue of Daniels was recently removed from Nash Square in downtown Raleigh, where it stood across from the former News & Observer building.

Speaking at Wednesday’s board meeting, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said continuing to honor Aycock, Carr and Daniels threatened the integrity of the university and its goal of creating a diverse, inclusive community.

The men’s views and actions did not merely reflect a different time, Guskiewicz said.

“The actions of these individuals were egregious even for their time,” Guskiewicz said. “and their conduct was central to their careers and lives as a whole. There is no evidence their views moderated or changed in their lifetimes and the accounts of their behavior are supported by documentary evidence.”

New permanent names for the buildings have not yet been announced.

The Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward will continue its work.

“We believe that other names on the landscape warrant action,” the commission wrote in its resolution. “We will make additional recommendations based on archival research and engagement with stakeholders on campus and in the broader community.”

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