Recently the Guilford County School Board voted to have Charles Aycock’s name removed from Aycock Middle School. Folks in Winston can be forgiven if they haven’t been following the Aycock controversy in Greensboro. Perhaps most people in Winston don’t know who Charles Aycock was?
Charles Aycock was one of the key figures in the white supremacy campaign of 1898. In 1894 a fusionist coalition of white Democrats who were tired of the planter class’ domination of state politics teamed up with black Republicans and won. The fusionists coalition of working class whites and African-Americans working together to better their interests infuriated the Democrats.
The Democrats would stop at nothing to win the election of 1898. They launched a white supremacy campaign across the state. Every racist dirty trick imaginable, including violence and terrorism was used to suppress fusionist voters and ensure that they took back state power. Charles Aycock was a talented stump speaker, who worked to “redeem” the state. Aycock was elected governor of North Carolina in 1900.
Aycock played an influential role in the passage of Jim Crow laws which disenfranchised African-Americans and many poor whites across the state. It would be approximately 65 years until federal civil rights legislation overturned Jim Crow laws in North Carolina and throughout the South.
Charles Aycock bares a great deal of responsibility for the legacy of Jim Crow in North Carolina. For decades Jim Crow robbed African-Americans in this state of wealth and opportunity. But for decades Aycock has been remembered for his advocacy for education as governor. That’s why Duke, ECU and UNCG until recently all had buildings named after him. But the tide has turned against Aycock, even the historic neighborhood that bares his name is considering removing it.
I’m glad that a racist like Charles Aycock’s name is going from famous to infamous. There are plenty of other politicians with checkered legacies that are just too prominent to have their names removed from institutions. Woodrow Wilson who served as President of Princeton before he held political office has his name all over Princeton University. The fact that Wilson was an ardent segregationist who screened the Birth of a Nation in the White House isn’t enough to convince Princeton to remove his name.
This Labor Day I was thinking about another President whose name I’d like to see removed from public buildings. Ronald Reagan was a friend of Wall Street, but an enemy of the labor movement. Reagan’s presidency was an affront to the entire progressive movement of the 1960s. Reagan was hostile towards African-Americans, women, the LGBT community. But it was the labor movement that Reagan crushed when he fired over 10,000 air traffic controllers in 1981.
Reagan’s heavy hand against the air traffic controllers set the tone for labor relations in the 1980s. It was a decade that would see concession after concession from unions. Reagan, with his background in acting, showed businesses how to bust unions and still come out looking like the good guy.
Real wages in this county have decreased for workers since the late 1970s, shortly before Reagan got into office. Today workers often find themselves in a precarious predicament. Good jobs are hard to find. Workers aren’t’ commanding the wages and benefits that they did decades ago, principally because unions have been busted. Thanks Uncle Ronnie!
I’d love to see Reagan’s name removed from Reagan High School, just like Aycock’s name has been removed from schools across the state. But I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. And if any school in the county is going to be named after Reagan it might as well be white-flight high out in Pfafftown.