In the U.S. Capitol, 83 years ago this month, North Carolinians gathered to make and hear speeches about a former governor, to say prayers, and to unveil a bronze statue of Charles Brantley Aycock.
The men who spoke that day wanted Aycock to stand forever as a reminder about his – and his state’s – zeal for education.
“While this statue may speak of the past,” Congressman Lindsay Warren said, “it also has a greater meaning to the present and future. Valuable as was his contribution to his day and generation, it will prove incomparably more valuable on down through the ages.”
The sitting governor, O. Max Gardner, said Aycock was a “Tar Heel to the toes” who had the “elusive, almost indefinable, quality which the world calls greatness.”
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He said Aycock, a Democrat who served as governor from 1901 to 1905, was best from a “galaxy of stars,” including presidents Johnson and Polk, to represent North Carolina. Aycock was best to also join a statue of Zebulon Vance, a Confederate soldier, former governor and U.S. senator, in the National Statuary Hall Collection.
“I do not anticipate any development in our national life which can alter the verdict of our times,” Gardner said. “Choosing for Statuary Hall a second North Carolinian to embody in bronze the spirit of our people and the genius of our institutions could have been both an audacious and an impudent performance. It has a finality about it that is subject to all the discounts of history. But I dare say that if there ever comes a time when North Carolinians repudiate the decision of our own day, the Commonwealth itself will have degenerated so that it will be interested in no great past, without which interest there can be no great future.”
That time seems to have come.
Aycock’s views and positions on race – which were acknowledged even on that May 20, 1932 in Washington, D.C. – are the fuel in a spreading conflagration of political and historical reassessment. Aycock’s name is gone now from the Democratic Party dinner that for decades honored his place as a beloved son of the state. His name is gone too from dormitories at Duke University and East Carolina University. More such cleansing is underway.
What Aycock was most remembered for eight decades ago was as a “flaming evangel” who worked endlessly for universal education and built 700 schools in cities, towns and hamlets, spreading literacy where there had been none.
That is being eclipsed. Aycock also was a leader in the late 1890s white supremacist movement that helped Democrats seize power from a biracial coalition of Republicans and Populists. He worked to disenfranchise black voters.
He wanted African-Americans to be educated but for “subordinate” roles.
Removal effort begins
And so lawmakers in the state House have voted to remove Aycock’s statue and replace it with a new son of the state – the Rev. Billy Graham, a spiritual leader and adviser to presidents. Only two are allowed in the collection.
The debate over the replacement was one of the sharpest yet in this year’s lawmaking session. Democrats objected to the process mostly, though suggestions of other North Carolinians arose, including as possible choices a civil rights leader, Julius Chambers, or Dean Smith, the late UNC basketball coach.
Over in the Senate, where the issue now rests, the leading sponsors to honor Graham over Aycock are senators Dan Soucek, a Republican who represents several western counties, and Joel Ford, a Charlotte Democrat.
Soucek acknowledged the tension that arose in the House, and said he wants to “let things settle down a little bit.” Time needs to pass before he will run the bill in his chamber, he said.
Soucek wants a better process, expressing displeasure with how the House handled it.
There, Rep. Charles Jeter had said he thought of the replacement idea one day while walking through the Capitol and that he thought Graham was “the best choice” for the honor.
But Soucek said he and Ford had developed and filed their bill first. Then, House members saw the bill and asked if they could file a companion, Soucek said.
That bill then moved to a vote in an unusual way, bypassing any committee hearing, allowing Democrats to raise questions.
“The bill that passed is the one I wrote,” Soucek said.
Soucek once worked for Samaritan’s Purse, an international charity run by Billy Graham’s son, Franklin.
Aycock’s statue needs to be replaced, Soucek said, and he had researched how to accomplish it. Any statue could not be in place while Graham is living.
Soucek said he still hopes for a unanimous Senate vote for a Graham statue, which seems to be a certainty.
“He is one of the most honorable men to live in our country,” Soucek said of Graham. “This is not a divisive issue, inherently.”
J. Andrew Curliss and Lynn Bonner
Favorability rankings in NC
The latest Elon University poll looked at how presidential contenders are faring among North Carolina voters. Many Republican candidates have been visiting the state already, as political columnist Rob Christensen notes on Page 1C. Here’s a glance at some “favorability” ratings. Voters were asked to rate each candidate on a scale of 1 to 100.
Among all voters
Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker: 50.1
Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio: 48.4
Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren: 48
Frmr. Sec. of State, Sen. Hillary Clinton: 47.2
Ky. Sen. Rand Paul: 46.7
La. Gov. Bobby Jindal: 44.2
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: 44.1
Frmr. Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee: 44.1
Frmr. Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 41.1
VP Joe Biden: 40.9
Frmr. Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush: 40.5
Among Republican voters
Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio: 65.6
Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker: 64.7
Frmr. Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee: 63.5
Frmr. Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush: 62
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: 59.7
La. Gov. Bobby Jindal: 59.3
Frmr. Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 59.3
Ky. Sen. Rand Paul: 59
S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham: 52
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie: 48.8
Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren: 35.2
Frmr. Md. Gov. Martin O’Malley: 35.1
VP Joe Biden: 19.4
Frmr. Sec. of State, Sen. Hillary Clinton: 18.9
Among Democratic voters
Frmr. Sec. of State, Sen. Hillary Clinton: 74.7
VP Joe Biden: 66.9
Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren: 64.4
Frmr. Md. Gov. Martin O’Malley: 44.2
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie: 32.4
Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio: 31.3
Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker: 29
S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham: 28.2
Ky. Sen. Rand Paul: 27.9
Frmr. Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee: 27.8
Frmr. Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush: 26.9
La. Gov. Bobby Jindal: 26.2
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: 24.8
Frmr. Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 23.3