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Thursday September 23rd

Carrboro project takes first steps to recognize town's history

Carrboro is named after the white supremacist Julian Carr.
Buy Photos Carrboro is named after the white supremacist Julian Carr.

On Tuesday, a group of self-proclaimed "truth tellers" gathered in front of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to present their idea for a plaque that confronts the town’s controversial history. 

The proposal was confirmed unanimously and the committee was given up to $5,000 to create the historical marker. 

The “Truth Plaque” will address Carrboro’s namesake, Julian S. Carr, and promote the growth the town has experienced in the years that followed. While the landmark is meant to demonstrate Carrboro’s honesty about their history, it also serves as an opportunity for the community to come together and learn from each other.

Terri Buckner, a member of the Truth Plaque Task Force, said that the committee  tasked with writing the plaque were all longtime citizens with a variety of stories to share. 

“There’s lots of talk about how public history is being written now,” Buckner said. “And it’s not being done by academic historians necessarily. We are not academic historians, but we all care very much about Carrboro’s history, its present and its future.”

The task force began by sharing their own Carrboro stories and then brainstorming the subjects they personally wanted addressed.

“We invested considerable time and effort to get this text written in such a way as to reflect the concerns of the diverse membership of this committee,” Buckner said.

In the writing process, the task force decided to write the plaque in a two-part style that included both Julien Carr’s history in addition to Carrboro’s history. The wordage was not finalized until the group voted unanimously on Jan. 22.

The proposed plaque text begins with a brief history of Carrboro, starting in the 19th century when the North Carolina Railroad extended past Chapel Hill and inspired the creation of a small mill town, then named Venable. 

The town was named after Carr two years later. The plaque addresses Carr as a post-Civil War business leader, but also as an “active and influential participant in Jim Crow-era efforts to create a system of racial segregation.” 

Carr is known for historically being a strong proponent of the Confederacy and is at the center of the debate surrounding Silent Sam.

“Although the town continues to bear his name, the values and actions of Carr do not represent Carrboro today,” the plaque will say. 

The plaque will be placed to the left of the Town Hall front door.

In addition to the Truth Plaque, the task force also requested authorization to plan more historical plaques. 

“Carrboro’s history is much richer than one single plaque,” Buckner said. “And we can tell the story better with more places recognized and people recognized.”

The idea behind the plaque materialized when Board of Aldermen member Jacquelyn Gist said she saw a similar idea on a tour in Virginia.

“I had been in Fredericksburg, Virginia and noticed that they had the African-American Heritage Trail, and along that, they had true stories about what had happened in these places,” Gist said. “It was really interesting to see what had really happened to real people.”

Gist said the community members coming together and agreeing on this marker of history was inspiring in itself. People of color comprised the majority of the task force, some of which were civil rights figures in their own right, Gist said. 

"I think a lot of people are oblivious to a lot of things that have happened in our nation," Gist said. "This (task force) is celebrating some really strong people in our community." 

Tessa Wood, a UNC senior and Carolina Women’s Center Moxie scholar, was charged with heading the Truth Plaque project over the summer.

“The erection of the Truth Plaque works to recognize the roots of our town’s namesake, Julian Shakespeare Carr, as the egregious and racist man he was,” Wood said. “To move forward with a commitment to diversity, inclusion and uplifting of marginalized communities means nothing if built on a whitewashed narrative.”

Wood said she also enjoyed working with the Carrboro community and allowing them to address the history of their town with their present-day voices. 

“This plaque was an opportunity for the community to play a direct role in contextualizing the true history of Carrboro,” Wood said. “I was happy to help facilitate and articulate the steps needed for a concrete outcome.”

city@dailytarheel.com

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