Who was Charles B. Aycock?

Born in 1859 in Wayne County, Charles Brantley Aycock graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1880. He worked as a lawyer in Goldsboro and became active in Democratic Party politics in the 1880s.

In 1894, the Democrats lost power in state elections to a Populist/Republican political alliance that depended upon the votes of African Americans. During the election campaigns of 1898 and 1900, Aycock and many other Democrats were determined to win back the state government and restore Democratic rule based on white supremacy. During the 1898 elections, the Democrats used racist appeals and anti-black violence to regain power. Armed whites in Wilmington after the election forcibly removed the remaining black officeholders; shot African Americans down in the streets, killing likely more than a dozen; and forced hundreds of black citizens to flee the city. Back in power, the Democratic legislature proposed an amendment to disfranchise black voters, which required ratification in a referendum for inclusion into the state Constitution.

In 1900, Aycock campaigned for the disfranchisement amendment and for himself as governor. Overall, Aycock had a progressive platform, the centerpiece of which was improving public education—but he linked that program to the need to eliminate blacks from the electorate. Upon accepting the Democratic nomination, he declared: “we must disfranchise the negro. . . . 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; necessary because we must have good order and peace while we work out the industrial, commercial, intellectual and moral development of the State.” (Address Accepting the Democratic Nomination for Governor, April 11, 1900) In many ways, Aycock was a typical white southern progressive of the time: an advocate of a variety of reforms to advance society, yet also a proponent of racial segregation and black disfranchisement as necessary preconditions for the progress of both whites and blacks.

The voters of North Carolina responded by approving the disfranchisement amendment and sending Charles Aycock to the Governor’s Mansion. During his four years in office, from 1901 to 1905, Aycock, as promised, made the upgrading of North Carolina’s education system the focus of his administration’s efforts. Aycock and the General Assembly improved standards for teachers, raised white teacher salaries, adopted a textbook law, lengthened the school term, and increased appropriations for all levels of education from elementary schools to the state’s colleges.

Six years after Aycock left the governor’s office, he ran for the U.S. Senate. While campaigning for that office in 1912, he travelled to Birmingham, Alabama, to deliver his famous “Universal Education” speech. In the middle of the talk, Aycock collapsed on the stage, suffering a fatal heart attack at the age of fifty-two.


Why is Charles Aycock considered the Education Governor?

Charles Aycock had a strong commitment to building and strengthening the public school system for the state of North Carolina. Aycock believed that public education represented a crucial investment for the state.  He assumed a better-educated population would create greater individual wealth, which would lead to widespread prosperity in North Carolina. The array of education reforms Aycock promoted during his term as governor began the process of modernizing North Carolina’s education system.

Governor Aycock supported the idea of universal education, which included funding for black education. This stance distinguished Aycock from some whites both within and beyond North Carolina, people who believed that little or no public resources should be devoted to black schooling. In a speech Aycock made at Greensboro in 1904, he defended his support for black education:

My position has brought satisfaction and even happiness to many humble homes in North Carolina, and the negro, whose political control I have fought with so much earnestness, has turned to me with gratitude for my support of his right to a public school education. The [disfranchisement] Amendment drove many of them out of the State. An effort to reduce their public schools would send thousands more of them away from us. 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. (Address Before the Democratic State Convention at Greensboro, June 23, 1904)

Governor Aycock’s program of universal education included a firm belief in the necessity of racially segregated education. And Aycock did not believe that blacks and whites should always receive the same kind of education. He assumed that the proper training for most blacks—and some whites—meant a curriculum of industrial education (what we today would call vocational education). For Aycock and other whites, industrial education for blacks “promised 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.” (Leloudis, Schooling in the New South, 82)

While Governor Aycock’s education reforms did improve black education, more resources were devoted to the project of advancing white education during his administration and for decades afterward. Before 1900, North Carolina spent little on education, but of the funds expended, black and white schools received roughly equal shares. However, after 1900, as the amount of money spent on public education increased overall, the gap between the sum spent on white and black school systems began to widen significantly (see table below). By 1910, spending for black education in North Carolina was 40 percent of that appropriated for white education.

Aycock Expenditures

Source: Kousser, J. Morgan, “Progressivism—For Middle-Class Whites Only: North Carolina Education, 1880-1910,” Journal of Southern History 46 (May 1980).


What was Charles Aycock’s relationship to UNCG?

Charles Aycock and Charles McIver, the first president of the State Normal and Industrial School (UNCG), from 1891 to 1906, became friends when the two attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill together, graduating a year apart. Later, during the time Aycock was governor, the two men both worked with the Southern Education Board, a group of southern reformers who advocated for increased support and funding for public education; part of the group’s program involved working with northern philanthropists to secure funding for industrial education for black Southerners.

Aycock visited the State Normal College several times during his years as governor. He spoke at the 1902 commencement ceremony at the College. In January 1904, after a fire destroyed Brick Dormitory, Aycock came to the college, and along with McIver, spoke at the student assembly the next day. Governor Aycock later worked with President McIver to secure funds to construct a new facility.

In 1928, an alumnae committee was appointed to propose names for a number of new buildings on what was by then known as the North Carolina College for Women.   In its report to the Board of Directors of the College, the committee explained that

for the new auditorium we propose the name Aycock Auditorium. It is almost superfluous to remind ourselves that Governor Aycock was the great apostle of public education in North Carolina, that he shared with our first president, Dr. McIver, the place that this college might have in contributing to this ideal, and that he was the constant friend in her times of prosperity and notably in one of her great crises, the fire. (North Carolina College for Women Board of Directors Proceedings from June 19, 1928)


For further reading:

Anderson, Eric. Race and Politics in North Carolina, 1872-1901: The Black Second. Louisiana State University Press, 1981.

Anderson, James D. The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Cecelski, David S. and Timothy B. Tyson, Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy. University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Clegg, Claude Andrew. Troubled Ground : A Tale of Murder, Lynching, and Reckoning in the New South. University of Illinois Press, 2010.

Connor, R. D. W., and Clarence Poe. The Life and Speeches of Charles Brantley Aycock. Doubleday, 1912.

Leloudis, James L. Schooling in the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920. University of North Carolina Press. 1996.

Link, William A. The Paradox of Southern Progressivism, 1880-1930. University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Myers, Kenneth L. “Charles Duncan McIver: Educational Statesman,” Ph.D. Diss., University of Oklahoma, 2002.

Timothy B. Tyson, “The Ghosts of 1898,” Raleigh News and Observer, November 17, 2006.