Duke history department files request to rename Carr Building

The Carr Building on East Campus might look like the other Georgian-style red brick buildings around it, but there’s much more to the edifice than what meets the eye. 

Julian Carr, for whom the building was named in 1930, was a "virulent white supremacist" and former Confederate soldier who served on the Board of Trustees at Trinity College, which became Duke University when it merged with the Woman’s College in 1924. 

In 1913, the tobacco magnate spoke at the dedication of Silent Sam, the statue of a Confederate soldier that was toppled Aug. 20 at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His racist views were unambiguous, and he didn’t mince words. 

Carr boasted about “horsewhipp[ing] a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” because she “publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.” 

“I...then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers,” Carr continued. “I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.” 

Although he endorsed the Ku Klux Klan’s violent tactics and argued that blacks should not be able to vote, Carr was also crucial in the development of what is now Duke’s East Campus. Carr donated Blackwell Park to Trinity College, which enabled it to move to Durham. 

Just ahead of the first day of classes, the History Department has filed a request that Carr's name be scrubbed from the Carr Building, where the department is housed, History Department Chair John Martin told The Chronicle. The department has proposed the building be named the Gavins Building in honor of Raymond Gavins, the first African American on Duke's history faculty. Gavins died in 2016. 

"The department believes that the proposed change, which we have thoughtfully considered, is in keeping with the highest educational ideals and mission of the University," Martin wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

Any official proposals to amend the name would need to be approved by the Board of Trustees.

Because Carr was instrumental in securing East Campus for the university, Academic Council Chair Don Taylor thinks that the decision-making process regarding a potential building rename would be more “problematic” than it was with East Residence Hall, formerly dubbed Aycock Hall for ex-North Carolina governor Charles Aycock. Aycock, whose name Duke scrubbed in 2014 because the University said he was "inextricably associated with the disenfranchisement of black voters,” had no ties with Duke. 

“It is a reasonable assertion to say that Duke wouldn’t exist were it not for the generosity of Julian Carr. It is also true that he was a virulent white supremacist,” Taylor wrote in an email to the Chronicle. “Both of these things are true about Mr. Carr, and I think Duke needs to tell this story explicitly via a full, academically rigorous contextualization of Julian Carr, and then we all need to wrestle with what it means for us today.”

Student representatives had called for Aycock Hall to be renamed for several years before former President Richard Brodhead announced the change in 2014. Carr’s name has been removed from buildings outside of Duke—in August 2017, the Durham Public Schools board removed Carr's name from the Durham School of the Arts. 

Robin Kirk, faculty co-chair of the Duke Human Rights Center, led an April Bass Connections report calling for the Carr Building to have its name changed as well. The 100-page report, titled “Activating History for Justice at Duke,” analyzed 327 sites on Duke's campus in an attempt to educate the community regarding the stories Duke has memorialized. 

Although she wants Carr's name off the building, Kirk argued that the history should still be acknowledged in some way. The report recommended that Duke preserve the record of the Carr Building and Aycock Hall's names in an educational exhibit in the buildings and "as part of a larger, permanent exhibit." 

“Slavery and white supremacy are part of our lived world, so to ignore them is to ignore an important part of why the University is shaped the way it is and how it developed. It’s not by acknowledging these histories we bring them to light—they’re there,” Kirk told The Chronicle. “By acknowledging them, we recognize that and we recognize how those forces still continue to shape our lived reality. That’s especially true for students of color, women or LGBT folks.”

Kirk said that Taylor’s point about Carr being crucial in Duke’s development is valid, but countered that Carr’s name is still not worthy of recognition on the building. 

“What does he have to do with history? He was a businessman and donor, but that doesn’t mean the only way to recognize his contribution is through naming the history building for him, especially when that is such a sensitive subject given his support for white supremacy,” Kirk said. “There may be other ways to recognize Julian Carr that aren’t so prominent.”

Others that have pushed for the Carr Building to be renamed include senior Kristina Smith, president of Duke Student Government, and William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin professor emeritus of history and former history department chair. The Duke People's State of the University also listed changing the Carr Building's name as one of its demands. 

Smith cited the defacing of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture discovered Sunday as further reason why Duke should rename the Carr Building. A racial epithet covered the word “black” on a foyer wall that read “Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture.”  

“Now, more than ever, Duke must support its Black students, staff, and faculty by no longer memorializing a former confederate soldier,” Smith wrote in a statement to the Chronicle. “The renaming of the Carr Building would not erase the memory or donations of Julian Carr, but, similar to the renaming of Aycock, would serve as a statement that Duke does not support the confederate legacy and white supremacy.” 

Chafe said that the history department was not aware of Carr's past when it moved to the Carr Building from the Allen Building in the early 1990s. 

“Over time, we’ve discovered how Carr—like Aycock—was not only a racist and a white supremacist, but was also guilty of criminal racist activities," he said. "We have come to a conclusion that it’s important to address the consequences of identifying with this sort of history. We no longer have Aycock Hall and we need to change the Carr Building.”

Ben Leonard profile
Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


Share and discuss “Duke history department files request to rename Carr Building” on social media.