The illustrious Mr. Carr – Philip Scott

“Carr was the embodiment of dichotomy in the area of race relations,” writes Philip Scott.
“Carr was the embodiment of dichotomy in the area of race relations,” writes Philip Scott.

Julian S. Carr (1845-1924), industrialist and one of America’s most generous philanthropists, was an area resident who owned a summer home and horse racing track at Hillsborough. One of his descendant relatives recently opined, “isn’t it a shame that such a rich man died practically a pauper?” Apparently he had disseminated his wealth in a timely manner, having given it to every institution, cause and person he had wanted to support during his lifetime.

As managing partner of the W.T. Blackwell tobacco company, it was Carr’s business acumen that made the “Bull Durham” trademark well-known worldwide. By the time the company was sold for about $3 million around the turn of the century (nearly $100 million in today’s money), he was sole owner.

Mr. Carr owned a number of mills and factories, one of which was Alberta Cotton Mill (on the National Register of Historic Places, now called Carr Mill Mall). He also extended electricity to the town of Carrboro, for which he is namesake. In addition to providing decent jobs for black and white workers during hard times, he was known for taking them by rail on recreational excursions to his Hillsborough property. The race track there became one of the first and only remaining NASCAR dirt tracks in America. Occoneechee Speedway (1949) is now also on the National Register of Historic Places.

Carr was the embodiment of dichotomy in the area of race relations.

An avowed white supremacist, he flogged a black wench for publicly insulting a lady and maligning her character on one occasion, and helped launch careers of African-Americans in banking, insurance and education on others. He also supported many colleges and universities, financially, including black institutions.

When the rural college in Randolph County was faced with closing its doors forever after the Civil War, he came to Trinity’s aid by propping up the school with loans and outright gifts. Later, he led the effort to move the school to Durham – by providing 62 acres of land for the initial campus, which made the move possible, together with an early endowment. Of course major Duke money and monumental efforts of countless able people have made Duke University the great institution it is today.

As a strong advocate of woman’s suffrage, Mr. Carr was recognized by both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony for his encouragement and contributions to the Equal Suffrage League. Abroad, he underwrote the Shanghai Bible publishing and distribution business of Charles Soong, having earlier provided for Soong’s education, and brought the man’s daughter to this country for her education. That young lady later became Mrs. Chang Kai-shek. Unknown to all but a few close associates, Mr. Carr was a major financial backer of the Chinese Revolution and Sun Yat-sen’s efforts to establish a modern republic in China.

The Silent Sam statue at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill was erected as a memorial to Carr’s fellow students at UNC who lost their lives in the Civil War, not as a sanction of slavery. The vast majority who joined that conflict on both sides were idealistic young men and boys, not slave owners. Yet, contemporaries have called up the story Mr. Carr told at the statue’s dedication in 1913 – about his corporal punishment of the black girl for her misdeeds, plus their own misappropriated meaning of the statue – as reasons to remove it and regard Carr as a reviled figure. Fortunately for the girl, she found sanctuary among a nearby group of soldiers from the North.

The distinguished professor, Peter Coclanis, referred readers about this matter (N&O, Sept 26, 2017), to a statement in Sister Helen Prejean’s acclaimed book, “The Death of Innocents”: “People are more than the worst thing they have ever done.” I second the motion of Coclanis’ “amen.”

Perhaps a likeness of Mr. Carr, without whom there may well be no Duke University, can be included in the consideration for replacement of the vandalized Robert E. Lee figure on the facade of Duke Chapel.

Philip Scott is the publisher of Sir Walter Press in Durham.