• 52°

D.G. Martin: When do we change names, history?

By D.G. Martin

Last week, the Raleigh City Council removed the historic designation of Wakestone, the former home of Josephus Daniels.

That action is just one more reminder of North Carolina’s and the nation’s struggle to find agreement on what people should be honored and what versions of history should be taught in our schools.

The unanimous action of the council was prompted by the property’s current owner, who wanted the historic designation removed because it restricted plans for intensive development. But the owner’s representative explained its request as follows: “Daniels’ legacy in white supremacy is certainly now having its reckoning as a tragic episode. But this site, and this designation, does not stand in the same way as a memorial of hallowed ground, to teach us lessons. It is a celebration of accomplishment. Is white supremacy the kind of accomplishment upon which the City of Raleigh wishes to officially confer recognition? What lesson does that convey?”

Last year’s book, “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy” by David Zucchino, highlighted the role Daniels and his newspaper, The News & Observer, played in fanning the flames the led to that tragedy.

What is often left aside are the progressive battles that Daniels and his paper fought and often won in a deeply conservative state during the last century.

How could one of North Carolina’s most important political leaders be both a progressive champion for education and economic development and, at the same time, the leader of the white supremacy movement in our state? N.C. State Professor Lee Craig wrestled with this challenging question in his book, “Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times” (UNC Press, 2013).

Professor Craig struggled with this seeming contradiction: “I had to confront the fact that the most consistently progressive American political leader between the Civil War and the Cold War was also the father of Jim Crow.”

The hard fact is that Daniels was an enthusiastic supporter of the white supremacy movement in the elections of 1898 and 1900.

Craig explained how he came to terms with the different aspects of Daniels’ public life, “In researching Daniels’s life and times, I’ve become comfortable with the contradictions of the man. He was a progressive, a warm-hearted family man, a man who genuinely cared about the country’s less-fortunate and down-trodden, at least as he defined them. Yet at the same time, he was a white supremacist, who used the coercive powers of the state to keep Blacks in a socially and economically inferior state for generations. He was a near-pacifist who tried to keep the United States out of the world’s worst war to date; yet, he was a gunboat diplomatist. He was a capitalist who sought government regulation of capital.”

Craig’s book describes Daniels’ business genius as a newspaper publisher, his support for public education and other progressive policies in North Carolina, as well as his important public service as Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of the Navy and Franklin Roosevelt’s Ambassador to Mexico.

But today’s leaders, taking into account the continuing stain of widespread white supremacist views, have been unwilling to measure Daniels’ many progressive accomplishments against his white supremacist actions.

Last summer, notwithstanding Daniels’ many accomplishments but rather citing his white supremacist views and actions, the Wake County School System changed the name of Daniels Middle School, N.C. State University removed the name from its Daniels Hall and UNC Chapel Hill removed the Daniels name from its student stores building.

How far can we go on this track?

What will happen to names of buildings, monuments, and buildings named for Washington, Jefferson and other national heroes when their accomplishments are similarly evaluated against their white supremacist views and slave-holding records?

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” Sunday 3:30 p.m. (except during fundraising special programing) and Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. on PBS North Carolina (formerly UNC-TV).

Comments

Local

City officials differ on how, what information should be released regarding viral K-9 officer video

High School

High school basketball: Carson girls are 3A champions

Lifestyle

High school, college sweethearts marry nearly 50 years later

Local

With jury trials set to resume, impact of COVID-19 on process looms

Legion baseball

Book explores life of Pfeiffer baseball coach Joe Ferebee

Education

Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education to receive update on competency-based education

Business

Biz Roundup: Kannapolis expects to see economic, housing growth continue in 2021

Business

A fixture of downtown Salisbury’s shopping scene, Caniche celebrates 15th anniversary this month

Local

Slate of new officers during local GOP convention; Rev. Jenkins becomes new chair

Landis

Landis officials narrow search for new manager to five candidates; expect decision within a month

Lifestyle

Together at last: High school, college sweethearts marry nearly 50 years later

Education

Rowan-Salisbury Schools sorts out transportation logistics in preparation for full-time return to classes

High School

Photo gallery: Carson goes undefeated, wins 3A state championship

Nation/World

Europe staggers as infectious variants power virus surge

Nation/World

Biden, Democrats prevail as Senate OKs $1.9 trillion virus relief bill

Nation/World

Senate Democrats strike deal on jobless aid, move relief bill closer to approval

News

Duke Life Flight pilot may have shut down wrong engine in fatal crash

News

Two NC counties get to participate in satellite internet pilot for students

Local

PETA protesters gather in front of police department

Coronavirus

UPDATED: Eight new COVID-19 deaths, 203 positives reported in county this week

Crime

Sheriff’s office: Two charged after suitcase of marijuana found in Jeep

Crime

Thomasville officer hospitalized after chase that started in Rowan County

Local

Board of elections discusses upgrading voting machines, making precinct changes

News

Lawmakers finalize how state will spend COVID-19 funds