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Carrboro residents struggle with action regarding town's white supremacist namesake

Carrboro welcome sign sits on Franklin Street on Nov. 7, 2022.

For the last 109 years, Carrboro has borne the name of Julian Carr, a businessman, philanthropist and white supremacist who gave the dedication speech for Silent Sam.

Residents have questioned the town’s name multiple times due to its namesake — most recently in 2020. 

Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said that while names are important, there is other work for racial equity that the Town is working on that will have a more substantial impact on people's everyday lives.

In 2018, the Town formed the Truth Plaque Task Force, a group of residents that created a plaque to give context to the town's naming after Carr.

“We’re looking for these opportunities to tell a truthful history about the town,” Seils said. 

The Town also recently founded the Racial Equity Commission, a group of residents appointed by the town council that aims to advise the council and help foster inclusivity and acceptance within the community.

Kenyatta Clark, a mother of six and one of seven current commission members, said it formed only last year, and she joined because she wanted to hold the Town accountable to its promises.

While Clark said promises made to Black residents in a 2020 proclamation to denounce Carrboro's history were meaningful at the time, she feels like her peers are still missing the point.

“I always go to what the promise of the foundation is, which is race and equity, right?" Clark said. "And until we always refocus there, they will always miss the mark."

As a Black woman, Clark said she often does not feel welcomed by others when she tries to participate in local government. 

"My ancestors were bought and sold right at the site where Carr Mill Mall stands, but like Mr. Carr mentioned, the deep-seated racism is 'embalmed in affections of our family,'" Clark said in an email. "Even though the Town wrote this proclamation apologizing for slavery and committing to providing racial equity for Black people, these were just great soundbites for the time." 

When she tries to bring up racial equity, she said she is often shut down.

“It's like a fly that comes up every now and then — people just kind of swat it down,” she said. "They don't really get it."

Clark said she does not believe changing the town's name is very important because it would not change the lived experience of the residents. Instead, she said she wants to see the Town take its promises and commitments seriously.

Carrboro resident and UNC student Kush Shah said he was not aware of who the town was named after or what Carr stood for. 

“Hearing about the name of Carrboro is honestly kind of shocking, especially considering the ethnic makeup of Carrboro,” he said. 

Shah said he loves living in Carrboro and, as a person of color, feels safer there than on UNC’s campus. 

He said he feels uncomfortable knowing about the history and thinks that, while it may not make a significant difference, changing the town's name or rededicating it to someone else would be a meaningful gesture.

Irene Newman is a Ph.D. candidate in UNC’s Department of American Studies who focuses on white power and racist violence.

In Carrboro, Newman said she thinks there is a connection between allowing Carr to be memorialized and the town continuing to turn a blind eye to organized racist violence in their community.

“There is a through-line between Julian Carr in the early 20th century and people who are committing racist violence in the area now,” she said. 

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She said it is important for people to know that there are spaces in Chapel Hill and Carrboro where white power groups openly congregate daily.

Newman said changing the name would help the Town to create an environment where its Black residents are not continuously reminded of Carr’s racist violence. 

“I think there is an opportunity in renaming to think about the kinds of spaces we want to live in,” she said.

@fanning_sophia | @DTHCityState |

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