Carr, who is best known for his speech at the unveiling of the Silent Sam monument in which he describes “horse-whipping” a black woman, was a businessman who worked in the tobacco industry. Carr purchased the Alberta Cotton Mill, now Carr Mill Mall, in 1909, and extended electricity to the area. Carrboro was then named in his honor.
Carr was also a white supremacist who joined the Ku Klux Klan and was an opponent of Black suffrage.
Gist said that, because it is nearly impossible to change the name of a town, Carrboro must find another way to acknowledge Carr’s past.
“We’ve got a lot of great things that have happened in Carrboro, but we also some pretty lousy things that have happened in Carrboro,” Gist said. “I think that society does best when our true history is acknowledged because you can’t deal with your true history, you can’t move forward with creating justice, if you don’t acknowledge where you’re truly coming from.”
Though the town has received applications for the truth plaque task force, some community members don’t think the plaque will do enough. William Sturkey, a UNC assistant history professor and historian, said he doesn’t believe the plaque will be able to properly capture the influence of Carr.
“The reason I don’t think it’s a good idea is because I don’t think you could possibly even come close to contextualizing or truth telling the entire career and activities of Julian Carr in the way that we want to either honor or acknowledge those activities today,” Sturkey said.
Sturkey said he worries the plaque will focus on Carr’s speech about Silent Sam, which would ignore the rest of his legacy.
“The speech is the tip of the lead pencil sitting on top of the iceberg,” Sturkey said. “It would really would reduce what they’re trying to do to a single moment that really doesn’t fully capture the ultimate truth about Julian Carr.”
There is also concern that Carrboro has not done enough to include UNC staff and students in the creation of the plaque. Black Student Movement President Qieara Lesesne said the town has not reached out to student activist groups.
Still, Lesesne said she believes the plaque is a step in the right direction.
“You have to acknowledge straight-on the racist and white supremacist stance that the town has taken and the history that cannot be erased, and instead acknowledge and learn from it,” Lesesne said.