County bickers over Gov. Aycock birthplace
By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 20, 2017 10:13 AM
Commissioners John Bell and Edward Cromartie vote to deny a movement that would grant state funding for the Charles B. Aycock historic site Tuesday at the Wayne County courthouse annex.
The legacy of Gov. Charles B. Aycock continues to be a divisive one and Tuesday morning had Wayne County commissioners bickering over a resolution asking the state to continue funding for the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace near Fremont.
Aycock, a Wayne County native who died in 1912, enjoyed the reputation as the state's education governor. But in more recent years that has been overshadowed by his reputation as a white supremacist.
The resolution was originally on the board's consent agenda, but was moved to new business after Commissioner John Bell complained that it failed to tell the true history of Aycock and his mistreatment of blacks.
Commissioner Wayne Aycock countered that the same resolution had been approved by the board in the past and is about preserving a state park to help educate children on the way that people lived back in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
It has nothing to with race, he said.
Commissioner Ray Mayo said he had not heard any negative comments about the birthplace.
To say no questions have been raised is not true, Commissioner Ed Cromartie said.
"Last year, Gov. Charles B. Aycock's name came up in reference to high schools," he said. "There were a lot of comments about it. There were meetings about it."
Over the past few years Aycock's name has been removed from state university buildings because of what he did, Cromartie said.
Aycock made a motion to approve the resolution.
But before the vote could be taken Bell offered an amendment to pull the resolution from the agenda until commissioners had the opportunity to discuss it and so that whoever on the board was promoting the resolution could bring a complete history.
"You are not telling the truth about what Gov. Aycock did back during those days," Bell said. "Read the whole history and then I will even consider voting for it.
"But if you are going to manipulate a resolution to make it look like Gov. Aycock was one of the best governors who ever lived, and teach it to children, you are misleading the children. That is what you are doing. Tell the whole story to the children."
Bell's motion failed 5-2 with Bell and Cromartie, the board's two black commissioners, voting for it. Aycock, Mayo and Commissioners Bill Pate, Joe Gurley and Joe Daughtery voted no.
Aycock's motion was approved 5-2 with Bell and Cromartie voting no and Aycock, Gurley, Pate, Daughtery and Mayo voting yes.
"Did Charles B. Aycock probably do some things wrong in his lifetime?" Aycock said. "Probably he did by today's standards. But a hundred years from now they can look back on Wayne Aycock, John Bell and everybody else on this board and say, 'Why were those fools doing things like that?' Times have changed. Did he make mistakes? Certainly. Everybody sitting on this board has made mistakes."
Aycock reiterated that the resolution did not mention race or what Aycock did as governor and was just an effort get the funds to maintain a state park used by school children and the citizens of eastern North Carolina.
Bell and Cromartie were not swayed.
"There is a lot of undesirable history," Bell said. "The things that Gov. Aycock did to black people is a disgrace. If it happened to you as a white man from a black person, you wouldn't be sitting here pushing for that. I didn't want to go that way but you forced me to do it."
America has had a long and often tumultuous history, but history cannot be changed, Daughtery said.
"We all read where we want to tear down Confederate monuments, and I don't understand what we are trying to accomplish," he said. "Those things that occurred years ago are in our history, good, bad or indifferent -- it's kind of like your family. You know there are people in your family who you really wished that person didn't do that.
"But, it's your family. It's our history, and we need to continue moving forward. Learn from our past and change those things that we want to change to make it better."
Daughtery agreed with Aycock that the resolution did not bring up the issues pointed out by Bell. He agreed as well that it is state educational park supported by state funds.
If the park is not supported locally it will go away, Daughtery said,
"I don't understand what we could possibly accomplish by doing that," he said.
Mayo said he had been monitoring the state budget since the Aycock Birthplace is in his district.
"I know there is a lot more to the story," Mayo said. "But the key is that the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace, the way it is operating and what it shows today, there is nothing there has far as race is concerned. It is there for education of our children."
If that is going to happen, why not remove the mention of presidents who served during the time being talked about, he said. Where will it stop, he said.
Bell said he can understand how some of the commissioners could make their comments.
"You've never had the things that happened to you that happened to me," he said. "So you can't live in that era. No, it is not a problem for you, and I can understand that. But if you are going to tell the story, tell the true story about Gov. Aycock, and then we can live with it.
"But don't disguise it and manipulate it and make it look like he was a genius to everyone who lived back in those days. It is not true. I will vote for the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace, if you tell the truth about it."