The following background was provided by Chair of the Aycock Naming Subcommittee and Chair of the University Advancement Committee, Brad Hayes on February 18.
At the September 4, 2014 meeting of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) Board of Trustees (BOT), information was presented regarding the statewide concern surrounding buildings named in honor of former Governor Charles B. Aycock (Aycock). The BOT requested that a committee be established to review this matter.
On January 28, 2015, Chancellor Brady established the Aycock Ad Hoc Committee. That committee was tasked with: exploring the historical connection between Aycock and UNCG; monitoring the progress of other campuses considering renaming; researching the process followed by institutions that have faced similar controversies; providing opportunities for engaging the campus community on the issue; and, making recommendations to the BOT regarding options. A list of the Aycock Ad Hoc Committee members can be found here.
The Aycock Ad Hoc Committee’s work included researching the history of Aycock and his connection to UNCG, studying the actions taken by other universities in the state, holding two public forums, creating a website to provide extensive background information, and conducting a survey of UNCG’s constituents which garnered over 1,000 responses.
The Aycock Ad Hoc Committee presented its findings to the BOT at the May 6, 2015 meeting. In summary, this committee was divided on whether or not the Aycock name should be retained or removed from the auditorium. The committee was unanimous that action should be taken by installing permanent educational markers to explore this complicated history. The full report of the Ad-Hoc Committee can be found here.
Naming and removing names of facilities is the purview of the Board of Trustees University Advancement Committee. Therefore, in response to the Aycock Ad Hoc Committee’s findings, the BOT agreed to create a BOT subcommittee on the Aycock Auditorium Naming to further explore this Aycock issue at the BOT meeting on May 7, 2015. The Aycock Naming Subcommittee was originally comprised of only BOT members (4), but was expanded to include representatives from the faculty (2), staff (2), students (2) and community (1). A list of the Aycock Naming Subcommittee members can be found here.
The subcommittee was charged by the Board of Trustees to carry out an analysis of the Aycock Ad Hoc Committee Report presented at the May, 2015 BOT meeting, seek any additional information necessary, and make final recommendations to the Board.
The first meeting of the Aycock Naming Subcommittee took place July 23, 2015 (Agenda Aycock Subcommittee July 23, 2015, Minutes Aycock Subcommittee July 23, 2015). At that meeting, the subcommittee discussed a desire to hear from experts. The Aycock Naming Subcommittee met on September 24, 2015 (Agenda Aycock Subcommittee September 24, 2015, Minutes Aycock Subcommittee September 24, 2015) to learn more about the Aycock history. In addition to the resources previously curated by the Aycock Ad Hoc Committee, the Aycock Naming Subcommittee heard from invited internal and external subject matter experts on the history of Aycock and the period in which he lived. Since the September meeting, subcommittee members have been researching and contemplating the issue and formulating informed opinions.
Like the Aycock Ad Hoc Committee, the Aycock Naming Subcommittee was unanimous in its belief that the educational component of this complex issue should be undertaken. At the November 5th, 2015 BOT Retreat, the BOT authorized the university to begin designing the educational component on this matter. At that meeting, it was decided that the Aycock Naming Subcommittee would present its recommendation to the University Advancement Committee of the BOT at its February 18, 2016 meeting.
Since the issue was initially raised at UNCG, three other universities in North Carolina have taken action related to buildings named in honor of individuals with similar questions about their pasts; East Carolina University and Duke University have both removed the Aycock name from residence halls on their campuses. UNC Chapel Hill removed the name of William Saunders, an alumnus, former trustee and leader of the KKK, from a classroom building.
The following recommendation was submitted by the Aycock Naming Subcommittee to the BOT University Advancement Committee on February 18, 2016.
a) The Subcommittee respectfully recommends that the auditorium facility no longer be named the Aycock Auditorium.
b) The Subcommittee finds that while given Governor Charles B. Aycock had many accomplishments, Governor Aycock’s beliefs, actions, and resulting reputation related to matters of racial discrimination are contrary to the best interests of the University given its current mission and values.
The Board of Trustees sitting as the University Advancement Committee, a committee of the whole, approved the recommendation of the Aycock Naming Subcommittee in an unanimous vote on February 18, 2016.
The Board of Trustees approved UNCG Auditorium as the temporary name of the auditorium until such time as a permanent name can be determined. Additionally, the BOT charged Chancellor Gilliam with creating a committee to consider the renaming process.
The following message was sent to the campus community from Chancellor Gilliam on February 19, 2016.
Thank you to the UNCG Board of Trustees for its thoughtful and diligent work on this sensitive university matter and with its decision to remove Governor Charles B. Aycock’s name from our signature auditorium. The beliefs, words, and actions of Governor Aycock regarding racial matters are so clearly antithetical to our core values and mission that we should no longer honor him, regardless of the contributions he may have made.
As British historian Christopher Phelps writes about naming university buildings in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “[T]he imprimatur of an institution of higher education affords the subject respect, dignity, and authority. This…is as much about values, status quo, and future as about remembrances.” To be clear, the future of UNCG is about the values of opportunity for all, inclusion, and tolerance.
It is understandable that some people are opposed to removing Aycock’s name from the building; it is understandable that some alumni have an emotional attachment to the name; it is understandable that some people are conflicted. But if one actually studies the full historical record – as the UNCG sub-committee spent several months doing – it is clear that keeping the name on the building does not stand up to scrutiny:
You shouldn’t “whitewash” the past. We agree. This is why the UNCG Board voted some time ago to commission an installation by noted historian Benjamin Filene and his team of graduate researchers. Filene has been charged with developing a presentation of the full history of Governor Charles B. Aycock. The goal is for this work to be prominently displayed on the grounds of the current building.
He was a product of his times. This argument fails on two points. First, the interracial coalition of the Fusionist movement (Populists and Republicans) charted a significantly more equalitarian agenda than Governor Aycock’s Democrats. In fact, much of Aycock’s ire was directly aimed at the rise of black political empowerment (e.g., Wilmington) due to Fusionist efforts. Second, Governor Aycock was not simply following public opinion in late 19th century around racial discrimination, he was a central architect.
You can’t rewrite history. This must be news to most historians. As Phelps persuasively articulates, “…our understanding of history changes over time, often as dramatically as that history itself. To reconsider, to recast, is the essence of historical practice.” We now know much more about Governor Aycock’s complicity in the Wilmington massacre than we did some time ago. As later historians uncovered and connected more pieces of information, a wholly different story emerged. We know that Aycock’s statewide speaking campaign in 1898 advocating white supremacy stoked the flames of racial fears that led to violence (tens, perhaps hundreds of black deaths). History was rewritten.
Aycock was the “education governor.” There are at least two rebuttals to this argument. First, Aycock argued that educating blacks meant delivering a course of study akin to vocational education. The goal according to UNC-Chapel Hill professor of history James Leloudis was “…to cultivate a new sense of self and social place among African American school children, convincing them to accept their subordination as a normal and inevitable fact of life.” As Governor Aycock said, “…in this hour, when our industrial development demands more labor and not less, it becomes of the utmost importance that we shall make no mistake in dealing with that race which does a very large part of the work, of actual hard labor in the State.” Second, during Aycock’s tenure, the state spent about forty cents on black children for every dollar spent on white children. In short, the “education governor” instituted separate and unequal educational opportunities for blacks and whites. His support for public education is inextricably intertwined with his racist beliefs.
Changing the names on buildings is a slippery slope. This is a classic straw man argument. No one is advocating a witch-hunt. We have no intention of critically examining the lives and words of people whose names are on our other buildings. As Supreme Court Justice Harlan argues, “I am of the view that it is the task of this tribunal to “draw distinctions, including fine ones, in the process of interpreting the Constitution. The prospect of difficult questions of judgment in constitutional law should not be the basis for prohibiting legislative action that is constitutionally permissible.” Put differently, it is the role of university governing bodies – like the Board of Trustees – to draw important distinctions. Supreme Court Justice Byron White says, “one recognizes that he can get off the ‘slippery slope’ before he reaches the bottom.”
Changing the name won’t eliminate racism. Perhaps not, but it surely has symbolic and psychic benefits. We understand our campus is much more than a simple collection of buildings. Symbolically, removing the name connotes change. It says that significant American institutions are more inclusive; that the voices of those on the outside are being heard; that there is hope and optimism in the face of the all too present harsh realities. Believe it, prospective students and parents care about what a university stands for.
Psychically it matters because no black student, staff or faculty will ever have to walk in that building and feel less than. To amplify this, I want to end with a personal story about how psychic benefits accrue.
For the majority of my 29 years at UCLA, my faculty office was in the Ralph Bunche building. For those of you who don’t know, Bunche was a scholar, diplomat, and the first black recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (and he was a UCLA alum). When I was a young assistant professor struggling to get tenure I would stand and look at Bunche’s Nobel bust while I waited for the elevator. I can’t tell you how many late nights and early mornings I received a boost to my self-worth from seeing his bust. You see, no African American had ever received tenure in political science up to that point. So, not surprisingly, doubt sometimes crept into my mind: I wasn’t that special; surely people way smarter than me had tried and failed; why would I be any different? That bust played a key role in my success; I have no doubt about it. Don’t underestimate the power of symbolism. Trivial in the minds of some? Maybe. Pivotal in the lives of others? Yes.
In sum, the name had to come down. Simply put, it doesn’t comport with who we are as Spartans. It is inconsistent with our values and it doesn’t properly support our mission. Moreover, the arguments for keeping the name on the building do not stand up to serious scrutiny.
As Dr. King said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”