Charles Brantley Aycock

Charles Brantley Aycock

Charles Aycock, from The World's Work
50th Governor of North Carolina
In office
January 15, 1901 - January 11, 1905
Preceded by Daniel Lindsay Russell
Succeeded by Robert Broadnax Glenn
Personal details
Born November 1, 1859
Wayne County, North Carolina
Died April 4, 1912 (aged 52)
Birmingham, Alabama
Cause of death Heart attack
Political party Democratic
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Occupation Politician, lawyer, educator

Charles Brantley Aycock (November 1, 1859 – April 4, 1912) was the 50th Governor of the U.S. state of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905. After starting his career as a lawyer and teacher, he became active in the Democratic Party during the party's Solid South period, and was a strong proponent of the white supremacy campaigns of that period.

Under his tenure as governor, he was an advocate for the improvement of the state's public school systems, and following his term in office, he traveled the country promoting educational causes.

Early life

Charles B. Aycock was born in Wayne County, North Carolina as the youngest of the 10 children of Benjamin and Serena Aycock. His family lived near the present-day town of Fremont, North Carolina, then known as Nahunta. Though his father died when he was 15, his mother and older brothers recognized his abilities and determined that he should go to college. Aycock attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and joined Philanthropic Society, a debate and literary society at the university. After graduating in 1880 with first honors in both oratory and essay writing, he entered law practice in Goldsboro and supplemented his income by teaching school. His success in both fields led to his appointment as superintendent of schools for Wayne County and to service on the school board in Goldsboro.

His political career began in 1888 as a presidential elector for Grover Cleveland, when he gained distinction as an orator and political debater. From 1893 to 1897 he served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

White supremacy campaigns

In 1898 and 1900, Aycock was prominent in the Democratic Party's "white supremacy" Solid South campaigns.[1] Aycock's involvement with the Wilmington insurrection of 1898 is chronicled in official state commission report. "Planned violence to suppress the African American and Republican communities grew into unplanned bloodshed. The frenzy over white supremacy victory, incessantly repeated by orators such as Alfred Moore Waddell and Charles Aycock simply could not be quieted after an overwhelming and somewhat anticlimactic election victory."[2] Aycock was reportedly not present in Wilmington the day of the insurrection.

In 1900, Aycock was elected Governor over Republican Spencer B. Adams,[3] as part of a sweeping Democratic victory which included a suffrage amendment. Aycock was a supporter of the amendment and campaigned on the issue.[4]

Indeed it has become the fashion among Republicans and Populists to assert the unfitness of the negro to rule, but when they use the word rule, they confine it to holding office. When we say that the negro is unfit to rule we carry it one step further and convey the correct idea when we declare that he is unfit to vote. To do this we must disfranchise the negro. This movement comes from the people. Politicians have been afraid of it and have hesitated, but the great mass of white men in the State are now demanding and have demanded that the matter be settled once and for all. To do so is both desirable and necessary – desirable because it sets the white man free to move along faster than he can go when retarded by the slower movement of the negro.
Charles Aycock, Address Accepting the Democratic Nomination for Governor, April 11, 1900 [5]


Statue of Aycock at the North Carolina State Capitol

As governor, Aycock became known as the "Education Governor" for his support of the public school system. It was said that one school was constructed in the state for every day he was in office. He was supposedly dedicated to education after watching his mother make her mark when signing a deed. He felt that no lasting social reform could be accomplished without education. He supported increased salaries for teachers, longer school terms, and new school buildings; "690 new schoolhouses erected, including 599 for whites and 91 for blacks."[1]

While credited for an expansion of schools for black students, Aycock is also noted as having advocated that black students be properly educated through curriculum and care tightly controlled by North Carolina whites, to "benefit the black race to fit them into a subordinate role." [6]

Let us cast away all fear of rivalry with the negro, all apprehension that he shall ever overtake us in the race of life. We are the thoroughbreds and should have no fear of winning the race against a commoner stock. An effort to reduce their public schools would send thousands more of them away from us. In this hour, when our industrial development demands more labor and not less, it becomes of the utmost importance that we shall make no mistake in dealing with that race which does a very large part of the work, of actual hard labor in the State.
Gov. Aycock, Address Before the Democratic State Convention at Greensboro, June 23, 1904 [7]

Historian Morgan Kousser has demonstrated that Aycock's progressive attitude toward black education was based on white Democrats' desire to ensure that the disfranchisement of black voters would not be reversed by federal government intervention. Kousser observed, "Some scholars have made a great deal of the opposition of 'progressive' Governor Charles B. Aycock and state school superintendent James Y. Joyner to the movement for a constitutional amendment in North Carolina to limit black school expenditures to the amount paid by Negroes in taxes. It is true that Aycock threatened resignation if such a law passed and that, speaking to the legislature in 1903, he condemned the proposed measure as 'unjust, unwise and unconstitutional.' Yet in the same address he put greater stress on his view that the act was impolitic than he did on its injustice. The law would invite a challenge in federal court, he believed, and 'if it should be made to appear to the Court that in connection with our disfranchisement of the negro we had taken pains for providing to keep him in ignorance, then both amendments [the literacy test and racial separation of taxes] would fall together.' In other words, the disfranchisement of the almost unanimously Republican blacks, which was virtually priceless to the Democrats, would be bartered for the temporary gain of a few extra dollars of the school fund."[8]

Later life

Aycock statue in the U.S. Capitol

After leaving the governor's office in 1905, Aycock resumed his law practice. He was persuaded to run for the Senate seat held by fellow Democrat Furnifold M. Simmons in 1912. But before the nomination was decided, Aycock died of a heart attack while making a speech to the Alabama Education Association in Birmingham on April 4, 1912.

The subject of Aycock's speech was 'Universal Education'. After he had talked for a few minutes, Aycock spoke the words: 'I have always talked about education -.' Here he stopped, threw up his hands, reeled backward, and fell dead.[9]


In Greensboro, North Carolina, the auditorium at UNC Greensboro, as well as a street, a neighborhood, and a middle school were all named for him.[10] There are dormitories at UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University campuses named after him, although ECU decided to rename the dorm in 2015.[11] In Pikeville, North Carolina, there is a high school named after him as well.

In 1965, a junior high school in Raleigh, North Carolina was named after him, although it was absorbed into William G. Enloe High School in 1979.

For most of the 20th century, Aycock was characterized by state historians and politicians as an admirable figure, reflected in the choice to have a statue of him as one of the two submitted by the state to the National Statuary Hall Collection. In recent years, that viewpoint has been challenged:[1]

Often overlooked was Aycock's role as a leading spokesman in the white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900, which were marked by widespread violence, voter intimidation, voter fraud and even a coup d'état of the government of Wilmington.... The campaigns had far-reaching consequences: Blacks were removed from the voter rolls based on literacy tests, Jim Crow customs were encoded into law, and the Democratic Party controlled Tar Heel politics for two-thirds of the 20th century.

In 2011, the N.C. Democratic Party dropped Aycock's name from its annual fundraiser after calls from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers brought attention to Aycock's white supremacy ties.[12] Aycock had been included in the fundraiser's name since 1960.

On June 17, 2014, Duke University removed his name from a residence hall.

On February 20, 2015, East Carolina University trustees voted to remove Aycock's name from a residence hall after a months-long debate with faculty, students, staff and alumni. The trustees directed the university to represent Aycock's name in another campus location, where founders and other university supporters would be recognized.[13]

As of early 2015, UNC Greensboro was also reviewing proposals to remove Aycock's name from campus buildings.[14] On February 18, 2016, UNCG's Board of Trustees voted unanimously to remove his name from the auditorium.[15]

On August 25, 2015, the Guilford County school board voted 9-2 to rename Aycock Middle School in Greensboro, dropping the Aycock name [16]


  1. 1 2 3 Christensen, Rob (October 6, 2007). "Aycock legacy gets reappraisal". Raleigh: News&Observer. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2014-06-05. But Aycock's legacy in the violent white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900—once sugar-coated in history books—is now being debated for the first time in North Carolina's highest political circles.
  2. "Wilmington Race Riot final report, 2006 Chapter 5, p. 122"
  3. "Our Campaigns – NC Governor Race – Aug 02, 1900". Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  4. "Disfranchisement". Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  5. "The Life and Speeches of Charles Brantley Aycock" : The Life and Speeches of Charles Brantley Aycock 1912
  6. Leloudis, James (1996). Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880–1920. pp. 177–180.
  7. "The Life and Speeches of Charles Brantley Aycock" : The Life and Speeches of Charles Brantley Aycock 1912
  8. Kousser, J. Morgan. “Progressivism—For Middle-Class Whites Only: North Carolina Education, 1880-1910.” Journal of Southern History 46 (May 1980): 169-194.
  9. The Federal Writers' Project of the Federal Works Agency, Works Projects Administration for the State of North Carolina, "North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State", The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1939, page 79.
  10. "The risk of choosing names" : : Greensboro, North Carolina
  11. "ECU renames its own Aycock Residence Hall". The Chronicle. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  12. "Vance-Aycock Dinner is history" : : Raleigh, NC
  13. "ECU to remove Aycock name from dorm, but retain it at another location" : News & Observer, Raleigh, NC
  14. "UNCG to move ahead with review of Aycock name" : News & Record : Greensboro, NC
  15. WFMY News 2 Staff. "Former NC Gov. Charles Aycock's Name Will Be Removed from UNCG Auditorium". WFMY. TENGA. Retrieved February 18, 2016.
  16. "Guilford school board votes 9-2 to change the name of Aycock middle school"
Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Lindsay Russell
Governor of North Carolina
Succeeded by
Robert Broadnax Glenn
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