“We didn’t know.”
Members of a 13-member committee appointed by the chancellor to weigh a proposal for the removal of the names on four campus buildings said they had heard that phrase from constituents of the University — and some said they themselves had not fully known the backgrounds of the four individuals.
The committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend to Kevin Guskiewicz that the names of Charles Aycock (class of 1880), Julian Carr, Josephus Daniels (class of 1885) and Thomas Ruffin be removed for their ties to white supremacy.
Guskiewicz, in turn, will decide what to recommend to the Board of Trustees.
Trustees Chair Richard Stevens ’70 (’74 MPA, ’74 JD) has said he would call a special meeting of the board — which is not scheduled to meet again until September — if Guskiewicz recommends removals.
Renaming is not yet on the table; the University has a separate procedure for that. This was the first exercise of a new policy on name removals approved by the trustees last week.
“It’s hard for me to imagine you could read about the principles of these four individuals and come to any different answer” other than removing their names, said committee member Paul Fulton ’57, a former dean of Kenan-Flagler Business School. “They’re probably the low-hanging fruit.”
Eunice Sahle, also a committee member and chair of the department of African, African American and diaspora studies, said, “I knew the history of these four men given the mandate of my department … but I was still stunned” after reading their records. “The urgency for us is removing these names.”
• Aycock, whose name is on a residence hall, led the 1898-1900 drive for white supremacy. One of the Democratic politicians who wrested control of the state from a coalition of white and Black Republicans, he used his oratorical skills to foment resentment of Black people. These Democrats also resorted to violence, particularly in a violent coup in Wilmington in 1898. Once in power, Aycock and his associates largely disenfranchised people who were Black through a literacy test and poll tax.
• Carr, the namesake of Carr Building, actively supported the 1890s white supremacy campaign and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1900 on that platform.
• Daniels’ name is on the Student Stores building. During his earliest days in politics, he supported the white supremacy campaign of 1898, which helped North Carolina’s Democratic Party overthrow an alliance of African Americans and white Republicans to enforce Black disenfranchisement and segregation. Daniels later expressed regret for his role in that event.
• Ruffin, who has a residence hall named for him, served on the N.C. Supreme Court, where he wrote one of the most important decisions in the law of American slavery. His opinion in the decision in State v. Mann (1829) banned the prosecution of masters for mistreating slaves by ruling that “the power of the master must be absolute to render the submission of the slave perfect.” (The dorm also is named for Ruffin’s son, Thomas Jr., who was in the class of 1844.)
“I’ve had people say this is not what I was taught in fifth, sixth, seventh grade,” said David Routh ’82, vice chancellor for development and chair of the committee.
The committee is made up of alumni, students, faculty, administrators and trustees.
Senior Kira Griffith, a member of the committee, said she lived in Aycock dorm her first year. She said that as a member of the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program, “we’re dedicated to educating Black students and also students of underrepresented minorities that are trying to achieve another level of status in education. To live in a building [named for] somebody who was completely opposed to that and enforced discriminatory practices, I think it’s a difficult thing that the University should definitely consider.”
The trustees in June lifted a moratorium on renaming buildings with the clear intent of addressing the names of white supremacists in response to the racial reconciliation movement that has gained momentum following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
The proposal that went to the committee Tuesday came from the chancellor’s Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward. In proposing the name removals, commission co-chair and history professor Jim Leloudis ’77 (’89 PhD) said: “We believe these names warrant immediate action. Aycock, Daniels and Ruffin occupied high positions of public trust. These men used their positions to impose and maintain violent systems of racial subjugation. And similarly, Julian Carr was a chief financier of the 1898 and 1900 white supremacy campaigns in North Carolina and the most prominent figure associated with Confederate memorialization on our campus and across this state.
“By his admission in 1921 in an interview with The New York Times, he was also a member of the Reconstruction era Ku Klux Klan. In each of those instances, Carr used his wealth and his influence to establish the regime of Jim Crow, which as you know for more than half a century denied Black North Carolinians equal justice and the fundamental rights of citizenship.”
Leloudis signaled that more changes would be proposed. “There are other names on the [UNC] landscape that warrant action.”
Aycock was governor of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905. The story of Carr’s speech at the 1913 unveiling of UNC’s Confederate monument, in which he boasted about having whipped a Black woman in the street in Chapel Hill, has been widely told. Daniels used his newspaper, The News and Observer, to foment the movement that overthrew the mixed-race government in Wilmington’s violent coup. Ruffin served two terms as a UNC trustee.
Aycock’s name has been removed from buildings at Duke and East Carolina universities and UNC-Greensboro. A statue of Daniels recently was removed from a public square in Raleigh at the behest of his family; a short time later, N.C. State University removed his name from a building.
The UNC Library’s biographies identify 10 namesakes associated with white supremacy, though lists compiled by students who researched the issue and racial reconciliation activists are longer — some of them include all who were enslavers.
Only one name has been scrubbed from a campus building. The trustees in 2015 voted to remove the name of William L. Saunders (class of 1854), a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the state, from a classroom building.