UNCG takes time with Aycock Auditorium renaming

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by Eric Ginsburg

Almost a year after UNCG began reconsidering the name of Aycock Auditorium — which honors education reformer and white-supremacist former governor Charles B. Aycock — a new subcommittee meets for the first time on the issue, and proposes an extended timeline.

It would be one thing, UNCG Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff Bonita Brown said, if the board subcommittee suggested taking its time in the face of widespread community outcry. That might look like the board of trustees wanted to drag its feet. But given that UNCG’s leadership began considering this issue of its own accord, there’s no harm in extending the timeline for a decision on a potentially controversial issue, she said.

Buildings bearing the name of former North Carolina governor Charles B. Aycock at other college campuses in the state have been the subject of criticism by alums and students in the last year; Duke University renamed Aycock Residence hall last summer and East Carolina University’s board voted in February to rename a dorm and place Aycock’s name — alongside facts about his complex history — in a new “Heritage Hall.”

And at UNC-Chapel Hill, the board renamed Saunders Hall in May, removing a reference to former KKK leader William Saunders, but stopped short of doing the same for a dorm named after Aycock.

At other schools, UNCG board Chair Susan Safran said, there has been a considerable push from community members to remove the name. At ECU, black alumni mobilized in large numbers, and students protested the name at other schools as well. But at a board subcommittee meeting to address the name of Aycock Auditorium at UNCG last week, attendees mused over the fact that UNCG’s community has been somewhat ambivalent.

“I don’t know why it’s been so quiet here,” Safran said, adding that it is rather amazing.

SONY DSCThat may change once more people become aware of Aycock’s history, board members said at the July 23 meeting.

It’s complicated, board member and Capsule Group CEO Randall Kaplan said. To many, Aycock can be credited with a tremendous push for public education at the beginning of the 20th Century.

“The other side is he ran on an absolutely racist platform,” Kaplan said, later adding: “His election was actually a tipping point into segregation.”

Aycock became governor of North Carolina in 1901 after running on a white-supremacist platform to oust a biracial fusion government. He argued for public education for everyone — through a segregated school system — and the disenfranchisement of black voters whom he saw as too stupid to vote.

“We must disfranchise the negro,” Aycock once said in a speech. “This movement comes from the people. Politicians have been afraid of it and have hesitated, but the great mass of white men in the state are now demanding and have demanded that the matter be settled once and for all. To do so is both desirable and necessary — desirable because it sets the white man free to move along faster than he can go when retarded by the slower movement of the negro.”

Kaplan made no indication about whether he thought the auditorium should be renamed during the meeting. But he did talk at length about how the “man of his time” argument didn’t apply to Aycock, who was actually part of a wave of white supremacists who removed blacks from positions of political power gained during the Reconstruction Era after slavery.

Acting Chancellor Dana Dunn — who attended the meeting — added that Aycock made statements in support of the violent Wilmington race riot to overthrow the city’s biracial government, possibly even expressing his desire to have participated directly.

UNCG’s board began reconsidering the name of Aycock Auditorium in September 2014, creating a committee “to review and respond to the statewide concern” about buildings named for the man, who died while running for US Senate in 1912.

The committee aimed to review “Aycock’s history and relationship with UNCG, studying how our peer institutions have responded to concerns, and inviting feedback from faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends,” according to a website set up specifically to chronicle its efforts.

The committee submitted its final report to the board on May 6, 2015, listing the split response from community surveys and also making no explicit recommendation overall about the auditorium’s name. The board charged a new subcommittee that month with making a recommendation on what to do, with a tentative deadline of December.

But at the new subcommittee’s first meeting last week, board members expressed a unified interest in exploring a longer timeline that would allow for more community education and careful committee deliberation.

Photo via NC History Project
Aycock, via NC History Project

The group, chaired by retired LabCorp CFO Brad Hayes, spent the first portion of its July 23 meeting discussing a perceived need to expand from four members to nine to 12. The four members — Hayes, Safran, Kaplan and civic leader Frances Bullock — noted that they are all white and could use racial diversity as well as input from non-trustees. Several names were tossed out; Bullock suggested Justin Outling, a young black lawyer who was recently appointed to finish Zack Matheny’s term on Greensboro City Council and who has said he will run for the seat in the upcoming election. Bullock said Outling is “tall, good-looking,” an alum and “very articulate,” but other committee members said he likely doesn’t have time.

Other prominent black leaders were mentioned for consideration — “Why wouldn’t you include Shirley Frye?” Kaplan said after arriving late and hearing the list so far — as well as history faculty and others who might broaden the committee’s knowledge base.

In some ways, the committee is recreating its predecessor, both in reaching out to UNCG’s community for input and in calling for greater study of the issue. Bonita Brown, one of four staff and administrators who joined the meeting last week, said afterwards that it isn’t redundant and will build on research completed by the last group.

Kaplan said in the meeting that he was “not impressed” with the report because it is too “thin” and provided “little guidance” on what to do. Board members agreed that a shared understanding of who Aycock was — through readings and expert presentations — would be important moving forward.

But the entire conversation may be moot, Hayes pointed out, because the state General Assembly is considering legislation that would require state approval before “objects of remembrance,” including structures, “created to remind the public of a person or event” could be removed or renamed.

 

Read UNCG’s report and more about discussions to rename Aycock Auditorium at aycock.wp.uncg.edu.

  • john

    pc run amuck