Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify that both Charles Aycock and Josephus Daniels played a direct role in the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, a violent coup d'etat that resulted in the murder of at least 60 Black individuals.
The Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward unanimously approved a resolution recommending Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz remove names with ties to white supremacy of four on-campus buildings at its meeting Friday.
Co-chairperson Patricia Parker said that the commission has received requests from a number of stakeholders on and outside of campus about changing building and landscape names.
“People want action,” said Parker, who serves as the chairperson of UNC’s Department of Communication. “On some level, we've been waiting for 400 years to take action.”
Jim Leloudis, co-chairperson of the commission and a professor in the history department, introduced the recommendation for the removal of the names Charles B. Aycock, Josephus Daniels, Julian S. Carr, Thomas Ruffin and Thomas Ruffin Jr. from Aycock Residence Hall, Josephus Daniels Student Stores, Carr Building and Ruffin Residence Hall, respectively.
“We believe that these names warrant immediate action,” Leloudis said. “...These men use their positions to impose and maintain violent systems of racial subjugation.”
Leloudis read evidentiary support for the recommendation during the meeting, describing the lives and racist histories of the men whose namesakes remain on UNC’s campus.
UNC’s Board of Trustees named Aycock Residence Hall in 1928 after the UNC graduate. Aycock, an influential figure in state politics, led the Democratic Party’s white supremacy campaign of 1898. The campaign aimed to dissolve an alliance that had formed between Black Republicans and white third-party populists, who had won control of the state legislature and governor’s office in 1894 and 1896.
Leloudis said Aycock and other Democratic Party leaders urged loyal Democrats to terrorize Black voters and their white allies through a “vigilante” terrorist group known as the Red Shirts. The resolution states the worst incident of their acts culminated in the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, during which a white mob murdered at least 60 Black individuals, destroyed Black businesses and carried out a violent coup d'état of the local Fusion government of Black and white politicians.
When Aycock won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1900, he campaigned on the promise to impose literacy tests in elections, a policy designed to disenfranchise Black men.
Leloudis said Aycock, who served as governor of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905, was “the principal architect of the regime of Jim Crow to deny Black North Carolinians equal justice and the basic rights of citizenship.”
In 1967, the BOT named the Student Stores Building for Daniels, who studied law at UNC in 1885, and was a Board trustee from 1901 to 1948.
Leloudis said Daniels, long-time editor and owner of The News & Observer, positioned the N&O as one of the most influential newspapers in the state, largely through serving as a “semi-official mouthpiece” of the Democratic Party and white supremacy campaigns.
According to the commission's resolution, Daniels filled the newspaper "day after day" with white supremacist propaganda that demonized Black people, and sent white Democrats into "fearsome mobs," like the mob that terrorized and killed dozens of Black individuals in the Wilmington Massacre.
Both Daniels and Aycock have since been cited as prominent instigators of the 1898 massacre; a statue of Daniels across from the former N&O office in downtown Raleigh was pulled down in June.
As Secretary of the Navy for President Woodrow Wilson, Daniels promoted Jim Crow segregation in the federal bureaucracy and racial subjugation in the U.S. occupation of Haiti. He strongly opposed President Harry Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights, which called for an end to segregation.
The Carr Building was named by the BOT in 1900 for Carr, who studied at UNC in the 1860s and left in between his years of study to serve in the Confederate Army. He was a trustee from 1877 to 1924. One of the richest men in North Carolina, Carr was a major financier of 1898 and 1900 white supremacy campaigns in North Carolina. He was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan during the Reconstruction Era.
Leloudis said Carr was a prominent figure “associated with Confederate memorialization on our campus and across the state,” serving as leader of the United Confederate Veterans in North Carolina. At the dedication of Silent Sam’s monument in 1913, he proudly recounted whipping a Black woman close to the University.
Thomas Ruffin and Thomas Ruffin Jr.
The BOT named Ruffin Residence Hall in 1922 for the elder Thomas Ruffin, who was a trustee from 1813 to 1870, and his son Thomas Ruffin Jr., who graduated from UNC in 1844. The elder Ruffin practiced law in Orange County and served as chief justice on the N.C. Supreme Court for many years in the mid-19th century. He was also one of the largest slaveholders in the state, having enslaved 100 Black men, women and children in Alamance County and another 35 people in Rockingham County.
Ruffin Sr. profited significantly from the domestic slave trade, and encouraged the breaking up of families of enslaved individuals as a jurist. Leloudis said the case Ruffin is most often remembered for involved an enslaved woman named Lydia, who attempted to run away from her slave owner, who then shot her in the back. Ruffin overturned the case on appeal.
According to the commission's resolution, Thomas Ruffin Jr. was a lawyer and Confederate veteran and served one term in the legislature, but "left no distinctive mark on jurisprudence."
Neo-Confederacy in the classroom
Leloudis said the erasure of racist histories was the product of a focused effort by those who advocated for glorifying a Neo-Confederate South and institutionalizing Jim Crow.
“And at UNC, that project found expression in the classroom,” Leloudis said. “And in fact, a scholarship in the erection of a Confederate monument, and in the scramble during the teens and '20s to name campus buildings for slave owners, Confederate officers, Klansmen, avowed white supremacists.”
Both Leloudis and commission member Sherick Hughes reiterated that it’s important to disavow the claim that these were “men of their times.”
“It omits the fact that there were people who were against this, who were fighting this, who were protesting this on both sides of the color line,” Hughes, a professor in the School of Education, said.
Larry Chavis, commission member and director of the UNC American Indian Center, also stated that going forward, it will be important to highlight those stories through the commission’s education work.
“The kind of people we want to emphasize and the positive stories we want to tell is — who was this fusion party and what were they all about? And who would have been the governor of education if we had fair elections, and we didn't have so much brutality?” Chavis said. “And who are the stories that aren't being told?”
Leloudis said the resolution also notes that there are other names of structures on campus that warrant action, and that the commission plans to make additional recommendations based on archival research and communication with community members.
The recommendation will be passed on to the Chancellor, who Leloudis said will likely forward it to the BOT ahead of their July 16 meeting. The BOT previously held an emergency meeting in June, in which they overturned a 16-year moratorium on renaming campus buildings, structures and landscapes.
Leloudis said there is currently not a policy or process in place for renaming buildings.
Adopting a framework
Parker proposed that the commission adopt a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Framework as a practical guide for the group’s work ahead. The framework was originally developed by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in 2016 to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.
Commission member Dr. Giselle Corbie-Smith brought the framework to the commission’s attention, Parker said. Corbie-Smith, who directs the Center for Health Equity Research, said the framework would be helpful in considering the structural nature of the commission’s charge.
“I'm excited to think about how we might be able to apply it to the work that we're doing," Corbie-Smith said. "And even possibly using this as a way to think about the kinds of structural change that the University needs to be thinking about as we are now in this, the birth of the newest civil rights era for our country."
Hughes brought up concerns that the framework did not include history and ideology, but said it could serve as a solid point of reference for the work they do. Joseph Jordan, director of the Sonja H. Stone Center for Black Culture and History, also expressed interest in examining the response from communities where the framework has been applied, and emphasized that successful implementation will be an ongoing process.
“It's a recognition that this process is going to outlive my time at the University and outlive me as well,” Jordan said.
Part of the commission’s action plan includes conducting "an exhaustive program of research to produce a full account of the more than three dozen campus buildings and public spaces named for men who expropriated Native peoples' land; claimed ownership of other human beings as chattel; who renounced their loyalty to the United States and went to war in 1861 to preserve the institution of racial slavery; who stood atop campaign platforms and hid beneath Klansmen's robes to restore white rule after Emancipation; and who devoted their scholarship to justifying such atrocities," the presentation read.
The action plan also involves memorializing the names of the enslaved people who built UNC.
“This project is about correcting erasure and correcting silence, about acknowledging the humanity of those people and beginning to transform the story we tell about University,” Leloudis said.
Parker also said the plan would include efforts to research the histories of two University-owned cemeteries, where enslaved people are buried, and to consider installing public exhibits to honor their memory, as well as examining UNC’s history with domestic slave trade.
Seth Kotch, a professor in the American studies department, said it would be important for the commission to uplift the research already done by generations of activists and scholars regarding the histories of buildings on campus as a way to expedite the process of renaming structures.
“I had the word gradualism in my mind, and I want to sort of just put my opinion out there, which is that we have an opportunity to move as quickly as possible on taking these dozens of names off of these sites,” Kotch said.
Parker said the commission also wants to work with the local community to make the histories of later generations of African Americans publicly accessible, and will consider commission member Danita Mason-Hogans’ proposal of a K-12 education program for the descendants of enslaved people that examines the impact of institutional racism.
“I'm just really hoping that we can take this opportunity to look at ways in which this history has been impactful, and continues to impact the local community,” Mason-Hogans said.
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