Colleges and universities around the country have been feeling the pressure to make changes since Black Lives Matter protests reignited, and many have had little patience for statues and buildings that remember or revere problematic historical figures. Just three weeks ago, North Carolina State University removed the name of white supremacist Josephus Daniels from Daniels Hall, an engineering building on their campus. On June 17, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill lifted a moratorium that had prevented its buildings’ names from being changed, so subsequently last Friday the Board of Trustees voted to rename four of its buildings whose namesakes are tied to white supremacy. One of those buildings, Aycock Residence Hall, was named for former NC Gov. Charles Aycock, whose name was also recently removed from buildings at Duke, East Carolina University (ECU) and UNC-Greensboro.
In light of this ongoing conversation about freeing our communities from racist history, I set out to investigate the backgrounds of some of the namesakes of our beloved spaces at Meredith College. My attention was first drawn to Faircloth Residence Hall and William T. Faircloth. Digging into the past of a person who lived so long ago is no simple task, nor is condensing their long life into one article. Least simple is digesting this information as a white woman who is, undeniably, not significantly affected by his past, and then concluding whether I believe it justifies stripping the campus of the name of someone who, whether we like it or not, is connected to Meredith’s history.
William T. Faircloth (1829-1900) was a trustee at Meredith from 1891 until he died, at which time $20,000 of his will went to the college. That money was used to build the first Faircloth Hall, on Meredith’s old campus in downtown Raleigh, in 1904. When Meredith moved to its current campus in 1927, Faircloth’s name moved with it and was given to the current Faircloth Residence Hall. The street next to Meredith and a building at the Baptist Orphanage at Thomasville (on whose Board of Trustees Faircloth also served) bear his name, too.
In Meredith’s own library archives, Faircloth is described as a “lawyer, Confederate Army captain, businessman, politician and school trustee.” Though he was reportedly a Whig and a Unionist, Faircloth enlisted in Company C in 1861 when secession began. He served the Confederacy first as a lieutenant and then as a captain in the 2nd NC Regiment of Infantry under General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. In a letter Faircloth penned to his soon-to-be wife while away at war, he writes of his “hope that the war will soon end with honor and freedom for the South,” according to ECU librarians’ summary. When I examined the letters for myself, I discovered that he never specifically mentions “honor for the South,” just that he was “glad to see the cool determination of our soldiers to be free or die trying to be so.” Subtleties of language shouldn’t necessarily be dwelled upon, but I was surprised by the mischaracterization by ECU historians and wanted to set the record straight.
After returning from war, Faircloth resumed his career in the North Carolina political and judicial scene. He would eventually become Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court, but first, he served as a delegate on the state constitutional convention, a group convened to “eliminate slavery in North Carolina” and “acknowledge that secession had been illegal and that the states were subordinate to the central government,” according to NCpedia. After much debate, the convention accomplished those goals, but it also sought “the removal of all black troops from the state.” NCpedia historians summarize that the convention “set the stage for North Carolina's struggle over the transition from slavery to freedom.”
According to his New York Times obituary in 1900, Faircloth was “one of the wealthiest men in Goldsboro, NC” and “one of the most prominent Republicans in Eastern North Carolina.” The Republican Party, from its beginnings, was not the ideologically conservative institution it is now – not until 1912 did the party take a right-wing turn. However, Faircloth is also described by NCpedia as having been a “conservative, commonsense man of the law.”
Justice Faircloth’s past is admittedly not as egregious as that of some of the other historical figures being expunged from buildings and statues. The formerly mentioned Josephus Daniels, for instance, owned the Raleigh News & Observer and used it to promote white supremacy and instill fear in Blacks of the community and in politics. Charles Aycock, NC governor from 1901 to 1905, ran a white supremacy campaign and disenfranchised Black voters.
To play devil’s advocate for a moment: Josephus Daniels helped introduce women into the Navy and saved the N&O from bankruptcy, and Aycock devoted his governorship to improving NC public education. However: the accomplishments of these men do not cancel out the stains they left on their communities, especially for minority North Carolinians. And at the very least, it has made institutions reconsider memorializing them on their campuses.
So what of William T. Faircloth? Which wins out, his service to Meredith College or his service to the Confederate Army? Perhaps that is up to the Meredith community in which Faircloth is commemorated – specifically the students of color, to which his past is the most unpleasant and incendiary.
Judging from the steps other local institutions have had to take to remove the names of problematic historical figures, Meredith would be facing a process of determined advocacy resulting in a decision by its Board of Directors and executive leadership. With the exception of Hunter Hall being renamed Martin Hall when the Science and Math Building was constructed and Martin no longer housed the sciences (Hunter, a chemist, became the namesake for a wing within SMB instead), Meredith has never removed a name from any of its structures. I hope that this exposé can start a conversation, if students find that necessary, and that Meredith not be resistant to any change that makes our campus a more sensitive and welcoming place.
By Mimi Mays, Guest Writer