Duke University Renames Charles B. Aycock Dorm

Duke University will announce today that it is renaming Charles B. Aycock Dorm to its original name–East Dormitory (it was changed to Aycock in 1911). Aycock has long been known as “the education Governor” and there was great expansion of compulsory education during his tenure (1900-04). Aycock’s name also graced a prominent N.C. Democratic Party fundraiser (the Vance/Aycock Dinner) until 2011 when they removed it due to the white supremacist views of Governor Aycock.

I grew up in Goldsboro, N.C., near the birthplace of Charles B Aycock, and he is easily the most famous person ever from Goldsboro/Wayne County (he is one of two North Carolinians honored with a statue in the U.S. Capitol).

Increased understanding of the so-called Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 (offical state commission report on it from 2006; N & O report) started the process that has lead to this renaming, and various student groups have been seeking this for at least 5 years. The Wilmington event in 1898 was really much more than a riot, and is likely the closest thing to a coup that has ever occurred in the United States (a black/white coalition local government was driven from power). Governor Aycock was not at the riot, but did contribute to and benefit from the white supremacist political climate of the time. Josephus Daniels, owner and publisher of the Raleigh News and Observer, was a close ally of Gov Aycock’s. The paper that is known as a liberal bastion today, was the mouthpiece of white supremacy and Jim Crow for a long time.

And a full context of this story requires noting that James B Duke, the benefactor of the University, and Josephus Daniels were bitter political enemies (the Duke’s were Republicans, nearly an unforgivable sin at the time). However, in 1911 when the dorm was named Aycock, what is today Duke was still Trinity College, and James’ older brother Benjamin N. Duke was the brother most directly involved in the University at that time.

Growing up in North Carolina my entire life, I never heard of the Wilmington Race Riot until sometime within the past 10-12 years. I remember it vividly. I was driving at night and there was a public radio interview with someone talking about the Wilmington race riot and I was really somewhat stunned because I had never heard this story before. What the hell are they talking about?

In North Carolina public schools, you do an entire year of North Carolina history in Fourth and Eighth grades. And Goldsboro, where I grew up is less than 100 miles from Wilmington, and we played the three Wilmington High Schools in sports. However, I heard not a peep of this history, and that makes me angry, especially given where I grew up. I am unsure if that has changed today (my youngest child will be in eight grade next year, so I will find out). I have been trying to convince any history grad student I have met the past several years to do a “history of the history” of the Wilmington race riot as a dissertation, but no takers yet.

I hope that somehow the renaming of this dorm can be a catalyst for increased education, done in a way that helps North Carolina struggle with our history and chart our future. I confess to being pessimistic about this coming to pass, as it is likely to turn into a Duke v North Carolina–both the state and University–story (UNC-Chapel Hill, ECU and UNC-G  all have Aycock dorms as well). I believe renaming is the correct thing for Duke to do in any event.

cross posted at freeforall

Author: Don Taylor

Don Taylor is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at Duke University, where his teaching and research focuses on health policy, with a focus on Medicare generally, and on hospice and palliative care, specifically. He increasingly works at the intersection of health policy and the federal budget. Past research topics have included health workforce and the economics of smoking. He began blogging in June 2009 and wrote columns on health reform for the Raleigh, (N.C.) News and Observer. He blogged at The Incidental Economist from March 2011 to March 2012. He is the author of a book, Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority that will be published by Springer in May 2012.

5 thoughts on “Duke University Renames Charles B. Aycock Dorm”

  1. There are sordid bits of history all through the United States. Hawaii joined the union (as a territory) in 1898 when the sugar planters conducted a coup d'etat and deposed Queen Liliuokulani and abolished the constitutional monarchy. I suppose that doesn't quite count as coup in the United States.

    The interesting thing is that we were taught this in the public schools of Hawaii. What we weren't taught was that I'olani Palace was looted (by the planters) and that the Crown lands were taken over privately. I'm not quite sure what exactly happened in Texas. In California, Fremont and the Bear Republic pulled similar stunts.

    In fact, looking back at the history of the U.S. it seems to me that allowing American citizens into your nation in the 19th Century qualified as a Very Bad Idea.

  2. Local boosterism makes it hard for schools to cover these types of outrageous events. If they emphasize the heroes who resisted the evil that was done, that gives them something to talk about. The South could provide an accurate history of slavery and the Civil War by emphasizing underdog Southern heroes, black and white, who fought slavery and ultimately fought on the side that eliminated slavery.

  3. "…easily the most famous person ever from Goldsboro/Wayne County…"

    That, I think, might be Wilber Shirley.

  4. I grew up in Goldsboro, N.C., near the birthplace of Charles B Aycock, and he is easily the most famous person ever from Goldsboro/Wayne County (he is one of two North Carolinians honored with a statue in the U.S. Capitol).

    It is perhaps worth pointing out that this doesn't mean he's so incredibly famous that he's been honored with a statue in the US Capitol and is one of only two North Carolinians so honored. Each state gets to put two statues in the Capitol, so this means that he was one of the two people South Carolina decided to so honor. This still makes him one of the most important political figures in South Carolina, as judged by the South Carolina Congressional Delegation at some point (unless it's the state legislature? I'm unclear). But it's not quite the same thing. Heck, Wyoming had to come up with two statue-worthy people, and it's tiny. Meanwhile huge states and states who've contributed many monumental national political figures also get only two.

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