GREENSBORO — The Aycock name is coming off the auditorium at UNC-Greensboro.
UNCG trustees voted Thursday to take Gov. Charles B. Aycock’s name off the 89-year-old auditorium after a year and a half of discussion. Their unanimous vote followed similar actions recently at three other North Carolina universities.
Trustees did not pick a new name for the 1,600-seat auditorium and set no deadline for selecting one.
Trustees on Thursday reaffirmed their commitment to a historical project they approved in November. The project — an exhibit inside the building, a sign outside the auditorium or some combination of both — will detail Aycock’s relationship to the university. UNCG officials say work on the project will start this summer.
Though the former governor helped the university rebuild a dorm destroyed by fire more than a century ago, trustees said their decision came down largely to this: Aycock’s words and actions that stripped black citizens of their rights at the turn of the 20th century are too troubling to overlook.
“It is my view that the beliefs, words and actions of Gov. Aycock regarding racial matters are so clearly antithetical to our core values and mission that we should no longer honor him regardless of the contributions he may have made,” UNCG Chancellor Frank Gilliam said at the first of two meetings Thursday to discuss the building’s name.
UNCG began its examination of the Aycock name in late 2014 at the urging of former UNCG chancellor Linda Brady. That summer, Duke University had renamed a dorm named for Aycock, and East Carolina University was reconsidering the name of its own Aycock dorm. Students at UNC-Chapel Hill, meanwhile, were pressuring leaders there to rename a classroom building named for a Ku Klux Klan leader.
A committee appointed by trustees studied the historical record, held two public forums and surveyed 1,000 people with UNCG ties. The committee found some deep divisions: Most university alumni and donors wanted UNCG to leave the name alone, while a majority of faculty and students desired a name change. The committee was divided, too, and made no recommendation on the name.
Trustees appointed a second committee last May. That committee’s recommendation to the Board of Trustees on Thursday: change the name.
Trustees acknowledged that Aycock, the state’s governor from 1901 to 1905, had been a friend to the university. He was a classmate at UNC-Chapel Hill of Charles McIver, the college’s founding president. In 1904, when the college’s main dorm burned to the ground, Aycock helped round up state money to rebuild. That dorm, Spencer Residence Hall, still stands.
When the university named the auditorium in 1928, a year after it opened, trustees praised Aycock as “the great apostle of public education in North Carolina.” Aycock had been dubbed the “Education Governor” for building hundreds of schools across the state for both white and black children.
But trustees and committee members were troubled by Aycock’s views on education. The state spent significantly more on the education of white children and offered only vocational classes to black pupils, whom Aycock viewed as second-class citizens.
More troubling still was Aycock’s role in helping Democrats seize power from the Fusionists, a coalition of farmers, populists, African Americans and Republicans that controlled state politics briefly in the 1890s.
A gifted orator, Aycock emerged as a leading spokesman — trustees several times used the word “architect” — for Democrats and white supremacy in North Carolina. Aycock and other Democrats used racial appeals and anti-black violence to win the 1898 elections. After that election, armed whites attacked Wilmington, where they killed dozens, burned the black newspaper and forced the elected City Council members from office. More than 2,000 black residents fled the city.
Two years later, Aycock was elected governor, and North Carolina voters approved a host of measures — poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses — that denied black citizens the right to vote. These laws as well as Jim Crow measures that mandated racial segregation remained in place until the 1960s.
“He wasn’t just a person of the times,” UNCG trustee Randall Kaplan said. “He was a maker of them.”
Student Government Association President Brittany Hudson said UNCG students don’t deserve to be confronted by racially charged symbols. She and others noted that UNCG — where about a third of the student body are racial or ethnic minorities — is the most diverse historically white campus in the UNC system.
Removing the Aycock name “doesn’t erase racism,” said Hudson, who also serves on the Board of Trustees. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”
The name change wasn’t universally praised.
Trey Aycock, a distant relative of Aycock who grew up near his namesake’s birthplace in Fremont, called the decision “political correctness gone amok.”
The Greensboro attorney said UNCG didn’t follow its building renaming policy. He also worried that the university’s upcoming historical project on Aycock would ignore the governor’s good works and “in perpetuity run down our family name.
“That just really, really hurts,” he said.
Staff writer Margaret Moffett contributed to this report.
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.