Durham County

Petition asks NC Central University to rename building honoring segregationist governor

Hoey Administration Building at N.C, Central University.
Hoey Administration Building at N.C, Central University. bthomas@heraldsun.com

Even on a historically black campus like N.C. Central University, there’s no getting around how institutions have used statues and buildings to honor the memory of Civil War or Jim Crow-era white supremacists.

A petition now circulating on Change.org highlights that by asking NCCU to rename one of its most prominent structures, the Hoey Administration Building.

The present name honors former Gov. Clyde Hoey, who served from 1937 to 1941 and helped N.C. Central get both authorization and money from the state to launch its law school and first graduate-degree programs.

But being a white elected politician of his time, Hoey was a segregationist. He opposed the string of Supreme Court decisions that chipped away at the legal basis for Jim Crow, and may have supported the new programs at NCCU to relieve pressure to desegregate historically white institutions like UNC Chapel Hill.

As such, his “life, philosophy and legacy ... do not properly reflect the values, hopes and aspiration[s] of” NCCU, the petition says. It supports a switch to calling it the Moore-Williams building to honor two people who led a 1957 sit-in at Durham’s Royal Ice Cream Parlor.

“There are so many other people worthy of the name,” added Ajamu Dillahunt-Holloway, the NCCU political science and history student who created the petition and posted it last week on Change.org, where it had 2,036 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Clyde Hoey NC Department of Public Instruction

Reaction from administrators wasn’t immediately forthcoming. Dillahunt-Holloway acknowledged that getting the name changed will be “a process,” starting with helping “people become conscious of who Clyde Hoey was.”

But the problem the effort might run into is that N.C. Central – uniquely among the western Triangle’s universities – is identified historically as the progeny of a single founder. And that man, James Shepard, was a contemporary of Hoey’s who likely had some say in naming the building for the then-governor in 1939, a decade after its construction.

And the historical record, such as it is, suggests that Shepard leveraged Hoey’s support for segregation into financial support for N.C. Central.

Once a lobbyist laid the groundwork for a request, Shepard would travel to Raleigh and tell Hoey and other political leaders of the day that “segregation comes at a high price,” said Andre Vann, NCCU’s coordinator of university archives and instructor of public history.

Later, NCCU was as prone as other campuses in what’s now the UNC system to use naming decisions to reward governors who presided over their growth.

“They were there when it was time to dole the money out, and it was a way to say thank you,” Vann said.

Vann added that student pressure for a name change bubbled up twice previously, in the 1990s and early 2000s. Before that, “it was just a given,” the general attitude being that “if the building was named for someone, especially during Dr. Shepard’s term, that was a stamp of approval,” he said.

Shepard’s own record is complex.

In his book Race and Education in North Carolina, former public-school leader John Batchelor notes that Shepard opposed the 1933 attempt of NCCU undergraduate Thomas Hocutt to secure admission to UNC Chapel Hill’s pharmacy school, going so far as to refuse to forward a transcript. He and a counterpart at what’s now N.C. A&T State University “feared that efforts to desegregate institutions of higher education would generate outrage among whites that would ultimately hurt blacks,” Batchelor wrote.

Moreover, there was a university to build, and Shepard “used the Hocutt matter to generate pressure on North Carolina’s white political leadership to enhance [its] black institutions of higher education,” Batchelor wrote.

Hoey ultimately got on board, favoring an investment in NCCU even though, in his words, “North Carolina does not believe in social equality between the races.”

He attended a late-1937 dedication ceremony for the campus and told the audience he “would not regard a state as great unless it demonstrated its ability to serve all the people within its confines,” according to a contemporary account in the black-owned Carolina Times that Vann forwarded to The Herald-Sun.

Shepard died in 1947, with Hoey, by then a U.S. senator, following him to the grave in 1954. Nowadays, Shepard’s statue adorns the main entrance to campus, amid a garden in the traffic circle in front of the Hoey Building.

Dillahunt-Holloway conceded that Shepard may well have leveraged Hoey’s views into backing for NCCU’s growth.

But “we still don’t believe the mores and values Clyde Hoey represents should be on the administration building,” he said. “That building stands behind Dr. Shepard, and should represent the civic engagement Dr. Shepard stood for.”

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg