Matthew Whittle: Gov. Charles B. Aycock historical perspective

Roundup: Talking About History

[Matthew Whittle is assistant news editor for the Goldboro News-Argus]

Gov. Charles B. Aycock was a segregationist.

On that point there seems to be little debate.

However, that's not all the Wayne County native was. He was also North Carolina's education governor -- a fact that Moore seemed to ignore in his attack on Aycock's legacy.

"I personally do not approve of some of the things I have read about Gov. Aycock or some other state and federal leaders of that time frame, but America was a different place and things have changed. Is there room for improvement? Yes. But Gov. Aycock should be honored for his efforts in education if nothing else," said Wayne County Democratic Party Chairman Bronnie Quinn.

The question about Aycock's place in history and in the Democratic Party arose on Monday when Moore began protesting the name of the state Democratic Party's annual Vance-Aycock Dinner, scheduled to be held Saturday.

Accusing Aycock of using "a message of white supremacy, racial segregation and oppression" to win the governor's office in 1900, Moore requested that his name be dropped from the dinner's title.

"We can no longer ignore the fact that many of us grew up being taught a much sanitized -- and inaccurate -- history when it came to Gov. Aycock," Moore wrote in a letter to state party Chairman Jerry Meek. "The truth is very ugly."

However, the truth also might not be quite as clear as Moore is presenting it.

Charles Brantley Aycock, born Nov. 1, 1859, was the son of Benjamin and Serena Aycock of Wayne County.

He began life on a 1,000-acre farm near Fremont and attended Nahunta Academy.

According to the biography "Charles Brantley Aycock," by Oliver H. Orr Jr., his drive to improve the education of North Carolina's residents began rather early in life after seeing his mother unable to sign a land deed because she could not write her name.

"I then and there made a vow that every man and woman in North Carolina should have the chance to read and write," Orr quoted Aycock as saying.

It was a vow he would work toward fulfilling after entering politics -- albeit in an odd way.

Known as a first-class debater and orator, Aycock spent the first decade of his professional life working as a lawyer in Goldsboro and serving as superintendent of the Wayne County school system. He also spent 17 years as chairman of the Goldsboro School Board.

Through that time, as he became more and more established and active in the state Democratic Party, he began to be called upon to speak at various events and at debates against Republican and Populist candidates.

By 1898, Aycock was established as one the party's state leaders, helping head the Democrats' push to regain control of the legislature and governor's seat. His goal was to stir the emotions of the segregationist Democrats.

In his book, Orr wrote that Aycock "instructed them to wear red shirts or carry guns. He encouraged them to believe they must do these things to protect the white race, especially the white women, against the Negro."

But, despite the fact that Aycock's speeches were known to have the ability to raise people's emotions, there is little in Orr's account of the campaign to give rise to the thought that his remarks advocated or contributed to the Wilmington race riots and subsequent coup d'etat, two days after peaceful elections statewide...

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