Learning from Julian S. Carr – Steve Unruhe

Last month, I joined a unanimous school board to vote to remove the name Julian Shakespeare Carr from the middle school building at Durham School of the Arts.

This was a man who shared his good fortune widely. He donated the land that became Duke University. He ran electricity to his mill and to the town that renamed itself Carrboro. He gave funds in support of women’s suffrage. He served on the trustees for the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua – the school that became North Carolina Central University. The church that welcomed me when I first moved to Durham to marry Jennifer 35 years ago carried his name: Carr United Methodist Church.

Julian Carr was a generous man. This is the legacy that Durham chose to honor when it named Julian Carr Junior High School in 1945.

This same Julian Carr spoke at the dedication of the UNC Chapel Hill Civil War monument. He related how he had mercilessly beat a “Negro wench” for “insulting a Southern lady.” He credited the Confederacy for its defence of “the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon.”

This is the vehement white supremacist whose name we have removed from our school building. For me, this was not a vote looking back in judgment of Julian Carr, but a vote looking at who we are now as the people of Durham.

I believe in the strength and beauty of a diverse community. I find myself appalled by white supremacists who once again carry torches, and by quiet politicians who once again systematically restrict black votes while denying racial intent. I burn with an anger at conservatives who would “make America great again” by turning back the gains of women and minorities.

For me, keeping Carr’s name on our school building would be an affirmation of our sad history of white supremacy when we need to be looking forward to our multi-racial future.

I have friends and family members who are deeply conservative and also exceedingly generous. The Julian Carr they would choose to celebrate would be the benefactor of our colleges, towns and churches. They would keep the building name as a salute to all those who worked to build our community.

Still, in today’s Durham, I believe our children need to know that our schools respect and celebrate our multitude of backgrounds, languages and cultures. We cannot any longer look past a message of hate, even as we acknowledge the otherwise generous legacy of the messenger.

Our history, like each of us, is complex. We must find ways to talk with each other, and more importantly, listen to each other. When we do act, let us do so with humility.

Steve Unruhe is vice-chair of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education. The views in this column are his.