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Duke history alumni join in effort to rename Carr Building

Julian Carr
Julian Carr

A group of 143 alumni of Duke University’s history department has joined the movement to rename Duke’s Carr Building, now named for benefactor Julian Carr, who had a history of white supremacist activities in North Carolina.

In an Oct. 1 letter to Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to Duke’s Board of Trustees, the alumni support a new name recently recommended by the history department, which is based in Carr Building on East Campus. They want the building to honor Raymond Gavins, the department’s first African-American on the faculty.

“A history department building named in honor of Dr. Gavins rather than Julian Carr is not, as some might claim, an ‘erasure’ or ‘sanitizing’ of history; historical erasure is, in fact, the legacy of Carr,” said the letter signed by the alumni, many of whom are history professors at universities around the country.

The historians say Carr’s version of the Old South is based on “lies served to justify and maintain white supremacy.”

Carr is memorialized in the name of the town of Carrboro. He is commonly associated with Silent Sam, the recently-toppled Confederate monument at UNC. In an often-cited dedication speech in 1913 at the statue, Carr recounted a story from around the time he returned from the Civil War, saying he “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds.”

He was a philanthropist who made money in the tobacco and textile industries and donated land that would become Duke’s East Campus.

The letter from the historians said Carr’s philanthropic activities, including the support of black schools and black businesses such as N.C. Mutual Insurance Company, were “part of a strategy of paternalistic benevolence that accompanies his considerable efforts to institutionalize the political, social, and economic domination of Black North Carolinians.”

The letter writers cited his support of a white supremacy campaign that led to a coup of the local government and the massacre of blacks in Wilmington in 1898. “Carr was a slaveholder before the Civil War and remained a lifelong, ardent white supremacist,” the letter said. “Well into the 20th century, he spoke approvingly and nostalgically of slavery.”

Duke officials have said the renaming request is being reviewed under university guidelines.

The Carr name has already been removed from another edifice in Durham - a building at the Durham School of the Arts. There’s also a Carr Building at UNC.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559; @janestancill