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'No longer an appropriate name': A look at what's next for the Carr Building renaming proposal

The new renaming process for buildings, created last year after the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from the Chapel, is about to get its first test.

Duke’s history faculty initiated the procedure when they filed a request to rename Carr Building—home of the history department—on East Campus. Dedicated to the industrialist and tobacco magnate Julian Carr, the building’s name has been under fire due to his white supremacist views and actions.

“Our views of the past shift over time,” said John Martin, chair of the history department. “We came to believe that Julian Carr was no longer an appropriate name for Duke.”

The renaming procedure is a product of President Vincent Price’s new Commission on Memory and History, which he formed last year to address the space where Lee’s statue stood and controversial building names on campus.

Although any member of the Duke community—students, alumni, faculty or staff—can submit a request to rename a building or other “acts of memorialization,” the proposal will face several bureaucratic hurdles before landing on Price’s desk.

The first person to read the proposal will be Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees, who will review it with leaders from the administration and the Academic Committee. 

If he finds that the request "warrants the attention of the president,” the proposal would be handed to an impromptu committee of Duke community members. Formed by Price, it would encompass students, faculty and alumni, as well as Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III and Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

Once the committee makes a recommendation, Price would choose whether to pass the renaming request on to the Board of Trustees—possibly with his own revisions—who would issue the final decision.

Martin declined to share the renaming proposal with The Chronicle, claiming it was an “internal document.”

The history department filed its proposal on Aug. 24, just before the start of classes. Following the violence at the far-right Charlottesville rally and the removal of Lee’s statue, the department's faculty unanimously voted this past May to rename their building after Raymond Gavins, the first African-American history professor at Duke, who died in 2016.

The People’s State of the University—an undergraduate group that advocates for social justice on campus—has demanded that the Carr Building be renamed since April 2018. But PSOTU told The Chronicle that it never sent an official request to the Board of Trustees, and Riddell confirmed that the history faculty’s proposal was the first of its kind.

“We do our part to educate students about the legacy of Julian Carr and hope to work alongside faculty as well,” senior Trey Walk wrote for PSOTU in an email. “We will continue to push the administration to rename the Carr building, a symbol of white supremacy that continues to undermine the university’s expressed support of its Black community.”

In 1913, Carr espoused his racist beliefs at the dedication of the now-toppled Silent Sam statue at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 

As a wealthy industrialist and a Confederate veteran, he advocated for women’s suffrage and donated to African-American schools, which he then undermined through the racist policies he helped enact. He aided entrepreneurs such as John Merrick—who created the black-owned North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance company—yet he also supported the Ku Klux Klan and lynchings of black Americans.

Despite controversy, Carr’s legacy is still visible today. His “Bull Durham” trademark permeates the city, and the nearby town of Carrboro carries his name. There is also a Carr Building at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

“We’re not seeking to erase Carr from memory,” Martin said. “But taking his name off would stop memorializing him.”

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