Duke is known to have renamed one building due to its namesake’s racist history—Aycock Residence Hall. Now named East House, the East Campus residence hall was renamed in 2014, when then-President Richard Brodhead announced the change had been approved by the Board of Trustees after student leaders had called for renaming.
The University may soon add another to the list.
Now, the faculty of Duke’s history department–joined by history alumni, student organizers and student leadership groups, among others—have requested that Duke rename the Carr Building, named for Julian Carr, an unabashed racist and donor of the land that is now East Campus.
The process for requesting the Carr Building be renamed is much more formal than the ad-hoc process that occurred with Aycock Residence Hall. After President Vincent Price removed the statue of Robert E. Lee from the Chapel steps at the beginning of last school year, the Commission on Memory and History that he formed produced a recommendation for a process to reconsider the names of buildings and other memorials on campus.
The Carr Building is the first test of that process. Comparing context of the two namesakes' histories and the processes surrounding renaming offers insight into how Duke’s administrative processes around memory have changed since 2014.
Aycock: segregationist governor, no Duke connections
Charles Aycock was governor of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1877 and started practicing law in 1881. He was known as the "Education Governor" due to his concern for public education, yet the privately-schooled Aycock still endorsed segregated schools.
As governor, he pushed for white taxpayers to fund white schools and the black tax base to fund black public schools, thus granting more resources to whites-only schools.
“Reconstruction events also influenced Aycock’s views regarding temporary black disfranchisement. He believed primarily that whites were more responsible and qualified to rule,” the North Carolina History Project encyclopedia entry on Aycock states. “The Republican Party, he claimed, duped many African Americans and that blacks were mere pawns of the corrupt GOP. He proposed black disfranchisement as a means to clean up North Carolina politics.”
Although his platform as governor included better care of people with mental illness and an extended school year, it also featured the disenfranchisement of African Americans,
Before his term as governor, Aycock participated in the Wilmington Race Riots of 1898, in which dozens of black North Carolinians were killed.
Before the school became Duke University, Trinity College named the residence hall after Aycock in 1912, despite the fact that the governor had no direct ties to the school.
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“The minutes of the Board of Trustees meeting which decided the name contain few clues as to why Aycock was chosen as the namesake: the former governor had never been a student or employee of Trinity, nor had he donated money to the school,” a 2014 Chronicle article states.
At the same Board meeting, the Trustees named Jarvis Residence Hall for another North Carolina Governor—Thomas J. Jarvis—who had no known ties as well to then-Trinity College.
Carr: the generous white supremacist
Carr, a "virulent white supremacist," was integral in bringing Duke to its present location in Durham.
A former Confederate soldier who served on the Board of Trustees at Trinity College, Carr spoke at the dedication of Silent Sam, the statue of a Confederate solider that stood at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill until protesters toppled it this past August.
At the 1913 dedication, he boasted about “horsewhipp[ing] a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” because she “publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.”
Carr endorsed the Ku Klux Klan's tactics and argued that blacks shouldn't have the right to vote.
"The whole world admits that it was a mistake to have given universal suffrage to the negroes,” Carr said in 1899.
Although Aycock had no ties to Duke, tobacco magnate Carr was instrumental in the development of what is now Duke's East Campus. Carr donated Blackwell Park to Trinity College, which became Duke University after merging with the Woman's College in 1924.
"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,” Academic Council Chair Don Taylor wrote in an email to the Chronicle.
"He had to go": how Aycock Hall was renamed
Aycock Residence Hall was renamed to East House in 2014. The change was approved by the Board of Trustees after years of activism that culminated in a Duke Student Government resolution calling for the name to be removed. The decision was announced to student leaders in an email from Brodhead.
“The push to move Aycock I think came from all sides. It was almost unilateral,” said Jacob Tobia, Trinity '14 and DSG’s vice president for equity and outreach at the time of the resolution. “People agreed that Aycock was a disgusting historical figure, and it was just a question of how it was going to get done.”
Tobia was one of the student leaders involved in the action around Aycock Hall, and the vice president was one of the students who brought the resolution to the Senate.
“The bottom line principle for me is that Duke’s history is complicated, and a lot of the people that help to found the institution or were important to the people that did found the institution, lived in a world where it was acceptable to be racist and to do some pretty messed up things,” Tobia said. “I don’t think we owe it to history to leave the name of racists up on buildings. I don’t think we owe it to any sense of legacy.”
The coalition supporting the change went beyond DSG, Tobia said. It included other campus leaders and groups, including the Black Student Alliance. Representatives from BSA and DSG met with administrators to make a formal proposal supporting the change.
Six months after DSG passed the resolution, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees agreed to it.
“It’s the type of thing where one small thing happens that sort of tips the scales,” Tobia said. “There was a lot going on...campus in politics that led to Aycock being changed.”
Beyond calling for Aycock’s name to be stripped from the residence hall, the DSG resolution suggested renaming it after Julian Abele, the black architect who designed much of West Campus. Brodhead said that the decision to not rename it for Abele was because he had not designed that building. In 2016, Duke renamed the main quadrangle on West Campus for Abele.
Instead, Duke changed the name of Aycock to East House, an echo of the building’s original name. Before Trinity College’s Board of Trustees renamed it to Aycock in 1912, the building had been named East Residence Hall for the one year it had been open.
"We've given this careful thought. One argument is that history is history, and we can't change it by erasing," Brodhead said in 2014. "But I don't regard this as an erasure."
Tobia agreed with the sentiment.
“With Aycock, I don’t think we lose anything by refusing to honor a white supremacist with a building name anymore. Aycock was a terrible governor of North Carolina, he was responsible for a white supremacy campaign. It was not just like he was consenting to what was going on at the time and not standing up to it; he was actively perpetrating making North Carolina a more racist state,” Tobia said. “Obviously, he had to go and his name did not belong on any campus building.”
A more formal process for Carr Building
Like the movement to rename the Aycock Building, the push to change the Carr Building's name has gained widespread support.
But the proposed change will go through a more formal process this time around.
The new renaming procedure stems from Price’s new Commission on Memory and History, formed last year to decide how to fill the vacant space on the Chapel where Robert E. Lee's statue once stood.
The first step in the new process is filing a request to change either a building's name or other "acts of memorialization"—something anyone in the Duke community can file.
In August, the history department filed a request that Carr's name be removed from the Carr Building. No such request was made for the Aycock Residence Hall.
The proposal was then sent to Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees, who reviewed the proposal with other administrative leaders. Since he found the request "warrant[ed] the attention of the president," the request then moved on to an an ad-hoc committee chaired by Gráinne Fitzsimons, professor of management and organizations in the Fuqua School of Business.
The committee was asked to send a recommendation to Price's desk about the building's fate by Nov. 15. Price would then review the recommendation, make any changes and present it to the Board for a final decision.
Like with the Aycock movement, students have pushed for the name to be changed for months.
The Duke People's State of the University, which emerged this past spring after storming the stage at an alumni event, listed changing the Carr Building's name as one of its demands. It never filed a request to change the name.
In September, Duke Student Government passed a resolution supporting renaming the Carr Building—like it did before the Aycock Building's name was changed.
This time, nearly 150 history alumni also signed a letter in favor of renaming the Carr Building.
“All the faculty think it’s a good idea and all the alumni think it’s a good idea,” said Bryan Pitts, Ph.D '13 and one of the three alumni crucial in coordinating the Oct. 1 letter to Riddell. “The people who study in that building and are the people at Duke who are best equipped to study history—that seems to be a critical mass right there.”