East Carolina University trustees voted Friday to remove from a campus dormitory the name of former Gov. Charles B. Aycock, who espoused white supremacist views.
But the name Aycock will be preserved in a soon-to-be designated location in another campus building, where founders and other university supporters will be recognized. That space will be known as “Heritage Hall,” and it will include facts about Aycock’s contradictory history.
After Friday’s meeting, the trustee board released a statement: “We believe that Aycock’s legacy to education will be better served represented in the overall history of ECU in Heritage Hall … In this place, Aycock and others can be recognized with an appropriate explanation of his or her contribution and connection to the university’s history.”
The statement said work would begin immediately on a timeline for the transition of the Aycock name, but it was unclear exactly when that would happen.
Trustee Chairman Robert Brinkley said it made sense for ECU, as an institution of higher learning, to educate people about Aycock more fully in a historical context.
“We definitely were not intending at all to try to erase or sanitize his name,” Brinkley said. “That name is important to us, and his legacy is important to us, and we think that’s a good way to do that.”
Student forums about the Aycock name were held in the past few months and attended by trustees. The Black Student Union and other student groups at ECU advocated for the name change and dubbed this week as “Judgment Week.”
Tyree’ Barnes, 23, a senior from Weldon, attended the vote Friday. He said the moment was surreal and historic, and it hadn’t sunk in for him yet. He applauded the trustees.
“It sets a precedent for what we truly stand for, which is leadership, which is service,” Barnes said. “It proves that from the very top, we want to set the bar high, where there is empathy on our campus. It is a human issue that is affecting our students, no matter what race. They wanted to do something about it. They wanted to really deal with the issue and resolve it for us all.”
The unanimous vote Friday capped a debate that lasted months at ECU. The conversation has played out elsewhere over the name of Aycock, who was known as the state’s first “education governor.”
The state Democratic party ditched the name Vance-Aycock for its fall dinner in 2011, now calling it the Western Gala. Last year, Duke University removed the former governor’s name from a dormitory following pressure from student government. Two other public campuses – UNC Greensboro and UNC-Chapel Hill – also have Aycock buildings and may reconsider. Public schools around North Carolina are also named for Aycock.
Aycock was governor from 1901 to 1905 and established 1,100 schools and nearly 900 libraries around the state. He also worked with the legislature to pass laws that disenfranchised black voters. He was prominent in the Democratic Party’s white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900.
ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard and an internal committee had recommended removal of the Aycock name from the residence hall, saying it hurt the university’s mission to serve a diverse population. Students of color make up 22 percent of ECU’s student body.
But the debate among trustees was contentious. They could not reach agreement during a lengthy meeting in December.
Friday’s vote represented a compromise of sorts. There won’t be a building at ECU named for Aycock, but the former governor’s contributions and history will be represented at a place on campus.
A motion at Friday’s meeting said in part that the new location “will be the place for which all members of the Pirate Family can make their own value judgments of any person recognized in Heritage Hall.”
Campus opinion varied, Barnes said, and while the issue united and divided students, it became a topic of widespread discussion. Messages had spread on social media sites, and everyone, it seemed knew who Charles Aycock was leading up to Friday’s trustee vote.
Afterward, Barnes said: “I officially say that I’m proud to be a Pirate. Officially.”