The Board of Trustees voted this weekend to remove the name of Julian S. Carr from a building on East Campus. This action comes at my recommendation, and after careful consideration of the report submitted by a committee of current and former trustees, faculty, staff, and students, which I formed in response to a formal request by the Department of History. (The committee’s report is available here.)
The Board also endorsed the committee’s recommendation to preserve the record of Carr’s contributions to Trinity College, which later became Duke University, to help the community understand his complex legacy. To this end, information will be displayed within the building that outlines Carr’s connection to Duke and our region, noting both why the university chose to name the building in his honor in 1930 and why it was removed nearly ninety years later.
The decision to remove an individual’s name from a building on Duke's campus is not, and should not be, easy. For that reason, I am grateful to the committee – and particularly its chair, Professor Grainne Fitzsimons – for its thoughtful deliberations over the past several months, and for its clear and unanimous conclusion that changing the name of the building will be a positive step towards the realization of Duke University’s goals and aspirations.
Julian Carr’s legacy is complicated. His leadership of and philanthropy to Trinity College helped ensure that the small liberal arts school would remain independent and would have the means – and the land – to transform into the great university it has become. But this same person also actively promoted white supremacy through words and deeds that, even by the historic norms of the times, were extraordinarily divisive and caused serious harm to members of his community. It is for these reasons that I agree with the History Department, the committee members, and the trustees that removal is the appropriate course of action.
In making this decision, the trustees also elected to revert to the building’s original name, the Classroom Building, until such time as a new name is selected. The Duke community suggested a number of distinguished individuals for whom the building could be named – including Professor Raymond Gavins, the first African American historian at Duke and a renowned teacher and scholar – and the board has decided to consider this further, along with other meaningful ways to honor their legacies.
Our campus is first and foremost an inclusive community of people, not of classrooms and buildings. With each new student or faculty member who arrives here, with each new discovery made or perspective shared, this community grows and evolves to better meet the challenges of its time. The renaming of the Carr Building represents one such evolution, at once a reflection of how our world has changed and a demonstration that our values and bonds will endure far longer than mortar or stone.
Vincent E. Price