I admire political brilliance even when I disagree with the motives.
From a political standpoint, going after North Carolina Gov. Charles B. Aycock and removing his name from buildings is brilliant. He has no constituency. Most people have no idea who he was or what he stood for. With no current constituency of supporters, those publicly opposing the unnaming have been largely limited to descndents and those concerned about rewriting history.
Aycock was a segregationist, but so were most political leaders of the time. Segregation was the law of the land while he was alive.
But what is worse, believing that people should be segregated by race or owning slaves?
It seems to me that owning slaves is a much greater sin.
But imagine the outcry if instead of going after Aycock, this group that is determined to rewrite history had decided to go after Gen. Nathanael Greene and insist that Greensboro be renamed. Greene was a Revolutionary War hero, but he was also a slave owner.
The Guilford County Schools have both General Greene and Nathanael Greene elementary schools. Shouldn’t those be renamed? Then we can rename Greene Street along with the city.
Greensboro is proud of Blandwood, the historic home of NC Gov. John Motley Morehead. There is also a Morehead Elementary School. Although Morehead was considered progressive in his time for his attitude about slaves, the historical record shows that he owned slaves. Morehead was also the governor of a state where slavery was legal, and he was a member of the Confederate Congress.
Based on history, it would make much more sense to go after Morehead than Aycock, but politically it is far smarter to start with Aycock – get people used to the idea of un-naming schools and buildings named for people whose political beliefs are out of line with today’s standards.
So it starts with Aycock, but who knows, it may end up with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe to name a few. What about Ulysses S. Grant? He was the general who defeated the Confederacy in the Civil War, but he was also a slave owner.
It seems the plan here is evident. It is to start with men who had beliefs that are not consistent with what is acceptable today who are not currently well known or popular, and work up the list to those who are both well known and popular.
It really makes no sense to rename a school because the namesake was a segregationist and not rename a school named for a slave owner.
If we are going to hold our forebears to today’s standards, it’s probably not a good idea to name schools for anyone, because the standards of society change.
In 100 years, people living today could be considered racists simply because they lived in segregated neighborhoods. In Greensboro today, most neighborhoods are predominantly white or predominantly black, and it is accepted.
It is by choice rather than by law, but will that matter to people in 100 years? We’ll have to wait and see.