Troubled by history, school board votes to rename Aycock Middle


The Guilford County School Board votes 9-2 to rename Aycock Middle School citing the explicit white supremacy of former North Carolina Gov. Charles B. Aycock as an unacceptable representation of the school system while questioning what effect the change will have.

Nobody on the Guilford County School Board spoke strongly in defense of keeping the name of Aycock Middle School at the board’s regular meeting on Aug. 25.

A couple of speakers during the public comment section at the beginning of the meeting criticized the discussion, decrying “so-called political correctness” and saying a name change wouldn’t do much besides increase division.

School board member Deena Hayes-Greene, one of the majority in the 9-2 vote to rename the school beginning with the 2017-18 academic year, also mused that it might not do much, but concluded that the school board needed to go farther in uprooting systemic racism.

“I don’t know if changing the name or not changing the name is going to compel us to examine what all of that means in the way that kids experience schools and the way we make decisions about that,” Hayes-Greene said, adding that it’s not just a name that needs changing but aspects of education, healthcare, the economy, food access, housing and more.

Rebecca Buffington and Linda Welborn, two white Republicans, cast the lone votes against the name change. Buffington remained silent during the board’s discussion on Aug. 25, while Welborn said she wanted to be responsive to the immediate community and had reservations about moving forward unless there was strong support for the change among the Aycock Middle community.

The board’s facilities naming nomination committee conducted a nonscientific online survey on the change prior to the meeting and received 522 responses, with 320 opposing a change and 176 supporting it (while 22 said “indifferent” and no response was recorded for 4, according to a staff presentation at a July 26 community meeting on the subject.

Board member Amos Quick, who heads the naming committee, mentioned that another nonscientific poll by Triad City Beat — with significantly fewer respondents — found in contrast that 80 percent supported the proposed change.

Introducing the subject, Quick explained that East Carolina University, Duke University and UNCG had recently undertaken analyses of their own and ultimately decided to remove Ayock’s name from buildings on their respective campuses. Aycock, who served as governor from 1901 to 1905, was originally honored because of his reputation as a public education advocate, a narrative that Quick argued whitewashes and censors history.

“The truth is the life and the legacy of Gov. Aycock cannot be summed up with one sentence, whether that sentence is ‘He was a good education governor’ or if that sentence is ‘He was a racist and race agitator,’” Quick said. “Like all of us, Gov. Aycock’s life and legacy is more than two sentences. The truth of the matter is that this is also not entirely a debate about the life of Gov. Aycock. His life ended in 1912, and not one thing that we say or do here tonight or in the days that follow will change anything that he did or did not do.”

Aycock Middle stands in Greensboro’s historic Aycock neighborhood, also named for the former governor. The neighborhood association has attempted to distance itself from the man due to his white supremacist legacy, dropping “Charles B.” from material. A street west of UNCG’s campus also bears the name.

Board member Sandra Alexander, who serves at large, argued forcefully for the change at the meeting last week, citing Aycock’s role in the 1898 race riot and coup in Wilmington and saying that the change “would help us root out and expose the falseness of white supremacy wherever it rears its ugly head.

“We should not continue to dignify the name of those who are so guilty of forcing others to suffer indignities,” Alexander said, adding that the school board is morally compelled to act.

She called it a teachable moment, saying it would be a chance to show that it isn’t right to justify the promotion of fear, hatred and anger in order to gain power and keep it. That’s what Aycock clearly did, Alexander said, and we’ve seen the same tactic repeated throughout history, she said, drawing a thinly veiled parallel to the approach of current state and presidential candidates.

The motion put forward by Quick and approved by the school board will use the time between now and the start of next school year to archive any relevant history of the school to be preserved and to find and decide on a new name. Board member Darlene Garrett, speaking via phone at the meeting, said that she would like to include students at the school in the renaming process to come up with something they could be proud of and suggesting it would be a good educational exercise. Though board Chair Alan Duncan said he partly wanted to allow more community input before a vote, he didn’t make a motion to table the vote for later even when specifically asked if that was what he intended.

The entire school board is up for reelection this year, and after a redistricting and shuffling process imposed by the state, there will be significant alterations to the board. In addition to dropping down from 11 members to nine, new district lines and moving from two at-large seats to one, the board will be losing at least five current members.

Quick is running unopposed for NC House District 58 and will not return to the school board. Nancy Routh, Ed Price and Sandra Alexander who all voted in support of the change will not appear on the ballot in November, nor will Keith McCullough who lost to former Greensboro City Council member Dianne Bellamy-Small in the primary. Rebecca Buffington, who voted against the name change, also will not be on the ballot.

At a minimum, newcomers will fill four of the nine seats on the school board, representing Districts 1, 3, 6 and 7. Only Linda Welborn — who voted against the change — and Deena Hayes-Greene — who supported it — are running uncontested, while Democrats Darlene Garrett, Alan Duncan and Jeff Belton face Republican challengers. With no timeline in place, it is possible the newly elected school board will be responsible for approving the new name for the middle school.