Duke University’s Board of Trustees on Saturday approved the removal of Julian Carr’s name from a building on the school’s East Campus following the recommendation of both a university committee and President Vincent E. Price. The trustees elected to restore the building to its original name -- the Classroom Building.
In its report, the committee noted that Carr’s philanthropy and involvement with what was then Trinity College was instrumental in sustaining the school during its early years and led to its relocation from rural Randolph County to Durham in the 1890s. This included Carr’s donation of 62 acres of land in 1890 for the college, which is now part of present-day East Campus. Carr was also an active proponent of white supremacy throughout his adult life. He boasted about being a member of the initial Ku Klux Klan and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1900 on a white supremacist platform.
“[The] white supremacist actions that Carr pursued throughout his life, even when considered in light of the time in which they were held, are inconsistent with the fundamental aspirations of this university, and removing the name will be a powerful statement that lifts up our values as a diverse and inclusive institution,” the committee wrote.
“Acknowledging this complexity, the committee felt that if campus symbols should ‘align in totality with Duke’s highest aspirations,’ we must conclude that Carr does not meet this criterion,” the committee’s report concluded.
The procedures for considering a renaming request were developed by the Commission on Memory and History in 2017.
The committee report was in response to an August 2018 request from Duke’s history department, which is located in the building that bore Carr’s name, to have Carr’s name removed.
The department also suggested renaming the building in honor of Raymond Gavins, Duke’s first African American professor of history, who taught at the university from 1970 until his death in 2016. The committee did not make a recommendation on renaming the building, noting it is the purview of the trustees to do so.
While many alumni and former colleagues “remember Professor Gavins’ scholarship, teaching, and especially his devoted encouragement and mentoring of generations of students,” the committee wrote, “… a number of other worthy individuals were suggested by the community in the survey responses. While commending the suggestion of Professor Gavins, the committee recognizes … the board may choose to consider other possibilities for candidates worthy of this honor.”
On Saturday, Price sent an email to the Duke community informing them of the board’s action. “Our campus is first and foremost an inclusive community of people, not of classrooms and buildings,” Price wrote. “With each new student or faculty member who arrives here, with each new discovery made or perspective shared, this community grows and evolves to better meet the challenges of its time. The renaming of the Carr Building represents one such evolution, at once a reflection of how our world has changed and a demonstration that our values and bonds will endure far longer than mortar or stone.”
The Carr Building committee included current and former trustees, faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the administration as well as historians and the current university archivist and the university archivist emeritus.
The board also endorsed the committee’s recommendation “to present educational and historical information on Julian Carr in order to preserve the record on Carr’s contributions to Trinity College and help the community understand his complex legacy. The committee thus recommends that the university display information inside the Carr building that outlines Carr’s connection to Duke and his legacy in the wider world; the marker should state why the university chose to name the building in his honor in 1930, and why it chose to remove his name nearly ninety years later.”
Before making its recommendations, the committee held three meetings and solicited input from members of the Duke community. Of the more than 900 people who responded, the vast majority favored removing Carr’s name from the building.