Charles Brantley Aycock

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Charles Aycock, from The World's Work

Charles Brantley Aycock (November 1, 1859 – April 4, 1912) was the 50th Governor of the U.S. state of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905. After starting his career as a lawyer and teacher, he became active in the Democratic Party during the party's Solid South period. Under his tenure as governor, he was an advocate for the improvement of the state's public school systems, and following his term in office, he traveled the country promoting educational causes.

Early life[edit]

Charles B. Aycock was born in Wayne County, North Carolina as the youngest of the 10 children of Benjamin and Serena Aycock. His family lived near the present-day town of Fremont, North Carolina, then known as Nahunta. Though his father died when he was 15, his mother and older brothers recognized his abilities and determined that he should go to college. Aycock attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and joined Philanthropic Society, a debate and literary society at the university. After graduating in 1880 with first honors in both oratory and essay writing, he entered law practice in Goldsboro and supplemented his income by teaching school. His success in both fields led to his appointment as superintendent of schools for Wayne County and to service on the school board in Goldsboro.

His political career began in 1888 as a presidential elector for Grover Cleveland, when he gained distinction as an orator and political debater. From 1893 to 1897 he served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. In 1898 and 1900, Aycock was prominent in the Democratic Party's "white supremacy" Solid South campaigns,[1] and was elected Governor over Republican Spencer B. Adams.[2]


Statue of Aycock at the North Carolina State Capitol

As governor, Aycock became known as the "Education Governor" for his support of the public school system. It was said that one school was constructed in the state for every day he was in office. He was supposedly dedicated to education after watching his mother make her mark when signing a deed. He felt that no lasting social reform could be accomplished without education. He supported increased salaries for teachers, longer school terms, and new school buildings; "690 new schoolhouses erected, including 599 for whites and 91 for blacks."[1]

According to John Beck, Wendy Frandsen, and Aaron Randall of Vance-Granville Community College, "Charles B. Aycock—the same Charles B. Aycock who helped lead the White Supremacy Campaign--is generally considered the state's first progressive governor. Despite Aycock's unsavory role as a white supremacist, he is still remembered and honored in the state today as the father of public education, and there are few counties in the state where one cannot find a public school named after him."[3]

Later life and legacy[edit]

Aycock statue in the U.S. Capitol

After leaving the governor's office in 1905, Aycock resumed his law practice. He was persuaded to run for the Senate seat held by fellow Democrat Furnifold M. Simmons in 1912. But before the nomination was decided, Aycock died of a heart attack while making a speech to the Alabama Education Association in Birmingham on April 4, 1912.

"The subject of Aycock's speech was 'Universal Education'. After he had talked for a few minutes, Aycock spoke the words: 'I have always talked about education -.' Here he stopped, threw up his hands, reeled backward, and fell dead." [4]

In Greensboro, North Carolina, the auditorium at UNC Greensboro, as well as a street, a neighborhood, and a middle school are all named for him.[5] There are dormitories at UNC-Chapel Hill, East Carolina University and Duke University campuses named after him. In Pikeville, North Carolina, there is a high school named after him as well.

On June 17, 2014, Duke University officially removed his name from their residence hall after extensive review and analysis of Governor Aycock's violent white supremacy ties and history of the disenfranchisement of black voters.

For most of the 20th century, Aycock was characterized by state historians and politicians as an admirable figure, reflected in the choice to have a statue of him as one of the two submitted by the state to the National Statuary Hall Collection. In recent years, that viewpoint has been challenged:[1]

Often overlooked was Aycock's role as a leading spokesman in the white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900, which historians say were marked by widespread violence, voter intimidation, voter fraud and even a coup d'état of the government of Wilmington.... The campaigns had far-reaching consequences: Blacks were removed from the voter rolls based on literacy tests, Jim Crow customs were encoded into law, and the Democratic Party controlled Tar Heel politics for two-thirds of the 20th century.


  1. ^ a b c Christensen, Rob (October 6, 2007). "Aycock legacy gets reappraisal". Raleigh: News&Observer. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2014-06-05. But Aycock's legacy in the violent white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900—once sugar-coated in history books—is now being debated for the first time in North Carolina's highest political circles. 
  2. ^ Our Campaigns - NC Governor Race - Aug 02, 1900
  3. ^ Beck, John. "HUM 122: Section VI: Politics in the South". Southern Culture. Vance-Granville Community College. Archived from the original on 2004-10-18. Retrieved 2014-06-05. 
  4. ^ The Federal Writers' Project of the Federal Works Agency, Works Projects Administration for the State of North Carolina, "North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State", The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1939, page 79.
  5. ^ "The risk of choosing names" : : Greensboro, North Carolina[dead link]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Lindsay Russell
Governor of North Carolina
Succeeded by
Robert Broadnax Glenn