Duke Renames Charles B Aycock Dormitory

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, ECU and UNCG  all have Aycock dorms as well). I believe that it is the correct thing for Duke to do in any event.

update: revised for clarity and to fix some typos

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy at Duke University (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute). I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy, and currently serve as Chair of Duke's University Priorities Committee (UPC). My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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