Segregated drinking fountain on the county courthouse lawn, Halifax County, N.C.
Making Memory, Making White Supremacy
Leaders of Aycock’s generation worked to make white supremacy seem natural and unremarkable by writing it onto the landscape. They erected Confederate monuments in courthouse squares across the state and marked public and private spaces with Jim Crow signs that separated ‘white’ from ‘colored.’ In some places, American Indians, too, were set apart – or offered no accommodation at all.
“We were bottled up and labeled and set aside – sent to the … back of the bus, the side door of the theater, the side window of a restaurant. We came to understand that no matter how neat and clean, how law-abiding, submissive and polite, how studious at school, how churchgoing and moral … we were, it made no essential difference in our place.” Civil Rights Activist Pauli Murray
NAMING SAUNDERS HALL
When UNC’s trustees attached Saunders’ name to this building, they contributed to memory-making that sought to vindicate the Confederacy and reconcile North and South. Together with whites throughout the nation, they set aside moral questions of slavery and justice, celebrated the common valor of men who had once been enemies on the battlefield, and made heroes of the Klansmen who had “saved” the defeated South from the “tragedy” of Reconstruction.
Black North Carolinians did not give up their claim to equal citizenship. Across the state, they established chapters of the NAACP and organized politically. In 1919 a group of prominent black men in Raleigh backed the mayoral candidacy of Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope, a veteran of Fusion politics. “We knew we wouldn’t win,” one of Pope’s supporters later recalled, “but we wanted to wake up our people politically.”
At UNC, a new generation of white faculty and students also questioned Jim Crow. Sociologist Howard Odum and playwright Paul Green treated black life with empathy and respect. The student staff of the Carolina Magazine struck at “race-prejudice” by showcasing the work of Langston Hughes and other writers of the Harlem Renaissance. And from his office in Saunders Hall, history professor Howard Beale declared that the time had come “to cease lauding those who ‘restored white supremacy.’”
Though forward-looking, these UNC figures did not call for an immediate end to Jim Crow. That would await a new wave of black activism in the 1950s and 60s.
“On both sides … we fought for the cause which we believed to be right, as God gave it to us to see the right. There are many things in common between the people of the North and the people of the South, and the glory of the soldier who wore the blue and the valor of the soldier who wore the gray are a common heritage to all Americans.” John Bryan Grimes (student 1882-1884), chairman of the North Carolina Historical Commission and a UNC trustee who helped make the decision to honor William Saunders