Earlier this week, Duke University elected to rename a freshman dorm named in honor of a former North Carolina governor with white supremacist views. Say hello to progress, Duke.
According to Inside Higher Ed, East Residence Hall will immediately be known as East Residence Hall once more. In 1914, it was christened Aycock Hall (already a joke in itself) in honor of former governor and segregation advocate Charles B. Aycock. University President Richard H. Brodhead issued the following letter to students earlier this week:
Over the past several years, representatives of Duke Student Government and the Black Student Alliance have engaged in a dialogue with the university administration about Aycock Hall on East Campus. I am writing today to let you know that the Board of Trustees has approved my recommendation that the name "Aycock" be removed from the building and the original name, "East Residence Hall," be restored effective immediately.
The decision to change the name of a building on the Duke campus is not taken lightly. Following the presentation of the formal proposal from DSG and BSA, I consulted with senior administrators, the President's Council on Black Affairs, and others. We also commissioned a Duke Ph.D. formerly employed as state archivist to review and analyze the history of Governor Aycock's complicated legacy as a North Carolina leader.
When a building is named at Duke, there must be the strongest possible presumption that the name will be permanent. However, the history of Aycock Hall is unusual and singular. Governor Aycock was not a graduate of Trinity College, nor was he personally involved in the college's affairs. Neither he nor anyone else provided funds for the cost of the building on the understanding that the name would be adopted. Further, while Governor Aycock made notable contributions to public education in North Carolina, his legacy is inextricably associated with the disenfranchisement of black voters, or what W. E. B. DuBois termed "a civic death."
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. In keeping with our educational role, an explanation of the history of the building's name will be displayed in the lobby of the East Residence Hall.
I appreciate your leadership in researching this issue, advocating for a change, and engaging with the important questions raised. Your participation in this conversation has demonstrated your deep concern for the history and the future of our great university.
Richard H. Brodhead
A wrong has been corrected, and it only took a century and "careful consideration."
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