It Just Might Work: Name Aycock Middle for Willa Player


The Guilford County School Board voted earlier this year to rename Aycock Middle School — good for them, considering former North Carolina Gov. Charles B. Aycock’s status as a leading white supremacist figure — and soon they’ll start taking formal suggestions for his replacement.

The school system will gather feedback at Aycock Middle School tonight (Oct. 18) at 7 p.m., but I’ve got a name to suggest for contention already.

Willa B. Player.

Never heard of her? That’s part of the reason it would be worth naming a school for her.

Player served as the president of Bennett College for a decade ending in 1966, after originally being hired to teach Latin and French at the historically black college. But it’s not just her educational career or its proximity to Aycock Middle that makes Player worth commemorating and celebrating. Consider this, from the Civil Rights Digital Library:

“[In 1956], Player became the first female president of the college and the first African-American woman in the country to be named president of a four-year fully accredited liberal arts college,” a bio of Player on the site reads. “During the peak of [sit-in] demonstrations in Greensboro, when almost 40 percent of the Bennett student body was arrested and jailed, Player visited students daily and arranged for professors to hold class and administer exams for jailed students. She also arranged for Martin Luther King to speak when no other group in Greensboro was willing to host him.”

That’s in contrast to the stance other city leaders took at the time, which you can read more about in William Chafe’s seminal book Civilities & Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black Struggle for Freedom — a book that should be required reading in Guilford County Schools and that all of you should pick up immediately, by the way.

There are plenty of other figures worth considering, including Albion Tourgée or Edward R. Murrow (see Brian Clarey’s cover story for this publication last week for more on Murrow). But wouldn’t it be poetic justice to see Aycock’s name come down and to see a civil rights activist and educator — and a black woman, to boot — replace him?

That’s exactly the message we should be sending our children.