10/05/07 — What's the fuss about Charles B. Aycock

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What's the fuss about Charles B. Aycock

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 5, 2007 2:24 PM

Almost a week after state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Richard Moore decided to attack Gov. Charles B. Aycock -- a favored Wayne County son -- for his segregationist views during his term in office in 1900, Wayne County residents are still trying to figure out what his motivation might have been.

"I was kind of surprised Richard did that," state Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne said. "I guess he thought, or his handlers thought, it was a good thing. Personally, I think it was a mistake."

In a letter to the state Democratic Party chairman Monday, though, Moore asked that Aycock's name be dropped from the party's annual Vance-Aycock dinner because of the contradiction between the former governor's views and attitudes on race and the party's current stance.

To some, it was a baffling request.

"Who are we going to rename the dinner for? Gov. Hunt? (Moore) certainly didn't get my advice," Kerr continued. "I think (Aycock) should be remembered as the educational governor. It's a sad thing to have that come back up. When you look back in that era, people made mistakes on both sides. But he did a lot of good, too. There's no doubt about that.

"I think we've got to move forward. I don't think we need to talk about the past. I think we need to talk about the future."

Wayne County Democratic Party Chairman Bronnie Quinn agreed, adding that there's much more important things to be discussing than the ceremonial name of a traditional dinner.

"Democrats would be better off attacking the Republican disenfranchisement of current black voters, than bringing up events that happened at the turn of the 20th century," he said.

Some wonder if perhaps Moore was courting the black vote, or if perhaps he was trying to take some of the spotlight off of rival gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue as she declared her intention to run for office on Monday.

"I like Richard Moore, but I don't know what he hopes to gain," Wayne County historian and Aycock descendent Charles Ellis said.

In fact, only Moore knows what his motivations were, but he is apparently not talking about it. Repeated phone calls to his office were not returned.

"You can't rewrite history," Ellis said. "Gov. Aycock made some remarks during his career that were alright then, but today we're changing those attitudes, so I see no reason to dig up those bones. I believe that Gov. Aycock was a very fine governor."

And for students attending Wayne County's Charles B. Aycock High School, that's enough.

For them, explained Dean Sauls, county director of secondary education, unlike for Moore and their parents, Aycock's segregationist history was not hidden, and so they have learned to put it in context.

"We've talked about his feelings toward minority issues. But we also talked about the more wonderful things he did for our state as governor, and I don't think we should punish him for the mistakes he made," senior Abbi Davis said.

"I feel a sense of pride going to a school named for the education governor," senior Zach Wright added. "You have to look at it. Back then, that's all they knew. Yeah it bothers us now, but back in those days that was accepted."

And, while that doesn't make his views and attitudes right, junior Rajohn Romond agreed that they don't overshadow his long-lasting education contributions.

"I think, being a minority, it has affected me more, but the fact he built so many schools, helping both races, the good outweighs the bad," he said.

And, so, said principal Dr. Earl Moore, to keep harping on the man's flaws simply serves little purpose.

"I think the flaws are really irrelevant. All of us are human and are capable of error, and if we focus on the mistakes, we'll never move forward," he said. "Students come to this place to learn. We help them learn from their mistakes and the same is true in life."