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Sunday, October 07, 2007

How, If At All, Should We Honor Our "Complex" Ancestors?

Those who like to puzzle over the problems of honoring complex figures from the past will find no more delicious a subject than Charles Brantley Aycock, North Carolina's famed "Education Governor."

He served from 1901 to 1905 and is credited with the construction of hundreds of new public schools in the state.

So revered a figure is he that his statue stands in the U.S. Capitol and residence halls at Duke University, UNC, and East Carolina University bear his name.

So do many public elementary and secondary schools in the state.

But the Aycock story is not so simple.  Charles B. Aycock was also a ferocious white supremacist and a leader within North Carolina's Democratic Party at a time when the party was wresting political control of parts of North Carolina from fusionist/integrationist forces -- by violence and coup d'etat.  He was celebrated as one of the most articulate advocates of white supremacy of his day.

Aycock later presented himself as a moderating figure within the North Carolina Democratic Party -- someone who saw that the racial terror it (and he) had unleashed might go "too far."  And he liked to brag that his education reforms benefited blacks and whites alike.  As he said in a 1904 speech,

"My position has brought satisfaction and even happiness to many humble homes in North Carolina, and the Negro, whose political control I have fought with so much earnestness, has turned to me with gratitude for my support of his right to a public school education."

Go back for a moment and read the biography of Aycock that appears on the U.S. Capitol site.   Or check out the biography that accompanies the Aycock Dormitory's page at East Carolina University.  You’ll find nothing about Aycock’s white supremacist views, his work to suppress blacks’ political rights, his affiliation with the feared Red Shirts, or his fiery rhetoric that helped trigger the violent overthrow of a North Carolina city’s elected government.

A Democratic candidate for governor has asked the party to strip Aycock's name from its annual Vance-Aycock fundraising dinner.

What do you think?  Should the party strip Aycock's name from the event?  Use the annual dinner as a moment to tell party members a bit about the party's past in general and Aycock in particular?  Something else?  Leave a comment.

Posted by Eric Muller on October 7, 2007 at 09:06 PM | Permalink


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For a more objective account of Aycock, go to "The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History," at http://museum.unc.edu/

Posted by: Annette Cox | Oct 11, 2007 9:20:32 AM

How about we have the event named after someone who was a significant leader of the NC Democratic Party within the lifetimes of those who attend the event? I mean, without attacking Aycock, wouldn't it be a bit more inspiring to have an event named for Terry Sanford or Jim Hunt or the like?

Posted by: Mark Chilton | Oct 8, 2007 7:13:23 AM

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