The University of North Carolina at Greensboro is changing the name of a historic building on its campus named after former governor and White supremacist leader Charles B. Aycock.
The university’s Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the Aycock Auditorium at its February meeting following a years-long process of research, evaluation and input from the campus community. In 2014, the Board formed an ad hoc group to research the possible action, including hosting two public forums and an online survey. When they submitted their report in May 2015, a subcommittee composed of trustees, faculty, staff, students and community representatives did further evaluation, including hearing from experts, before making a recommendation.
“The Subcommittee finds that while Governor Charles B. Aycock had many accomplishments, Governor Aycock’s beliefs, actions, and resulting reputation related to matters of racial discrimination are contrary to the best interests of the University given its current mission and values,” the recommendation read in part. “The Subcommittee respectfully recommends that the auditorium facility no longer be named Aycock Auditorium.”
Aycock, who served as governor of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905, had been recognized by entities across the state for his stalwart advocacy for public education in North Carolina, including his support for the women’s college in Greensboro.
However, according to the North Carolina History Project, Aycock was also a White supremacist and segregationist, who worked avidly to disenfranchise Black voters after the political gains made by freed slaves during Reconstruction.
The university’s board said it would develop an educational component on Aycock with the help of an expert museum developer and graduate students in the university’s Museum Studies Program.
“I would like to thank the subcommittee and the board for their thoughtful consideration of this matter,” University of North Carolina-Greensboro Chancellor Franklin Gilliam Jr. said in a statement. “I agree that this course of action is in the best interest of the university, and I am hopeful that the conversations begun during this process have formed a foundation for continuing thoughtful dialogue.”
The university’s decision mirrored several actions taken by other institutions in North Carolina and across the country to reexamine and sometimes rename buildings named after White leaders with dishonorable histories on race after nationwide agitation from Black students.
In 2014, Duke University rebranded a residence hall that was named after Aycock. President Richard H. Brodhead said at the time, “Today, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and at the conclusion of a commemoration of integration at Duke, the values of inclusion and nondiscrimination are key parts of the university’s mission. After careful consideration, we believe it is no longer appropriate to honor a figure who played so active a role in the history that countered those values.”
UNC Chapel Hill also announced that the former Saunders Hall, named for Klu Klux Klan leader William Saunders, would be renamed to Carolina Hall. Yale University last year removed portraits of controversial slavery advocate John Calhoun from a residential college named in his honor and is considering changing the name of the building altogether.