saunders hall

As residents here in the Tar Heel State know, the boards of several of the state’s public universities have in recent weeks engaged in a high-profile campaign to change the names of historic and iconic buildings and landmarks on various campuses. First, the board of trustees of East Carolina University in Greenville decided to remove the name of Governor Charles B. Aycock (1901-1905) from an historic residence hall on that campus. His crime? He ran for governor on a segregationist, “Red Shirt” platform, even though he did more for black education than any governor in this state’s history. Additional negative measures regarding Aycock are being seriously contemplated at UNC-Greensboro and Duke.

Most recently the board of trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has voted to change the name of Saunders Hall on that campus to “Carolina Hall.”  A small, noisy group of activists had pushed for something even more radical, say, naming the building after a “Civil Rights” leader. But the trustees, those profiles in courage, finally announced what they called a “compromise.”

Colonel William Saunders, you see, was a reputed founder of the post-War Between the States Ku Klux Klan in the Tar Heel State (1869). I say “reputed,” because the evidence is tenuous; and even if he were a member, the Klan in North Carolina quickly dissolved.  (I seem to recall that the late Senator Robert Byrd and Justice Hugo Black had been Klan members.) After that Saunders became one of the state’s leading and most respected educators, compiling and editing the mammoth “Colonial Records” project that is still used by scholars for research into North Carolina history. And he served commendably as a trustee of the university and a champion of public education for all Tar Heels.

Of course, it should surprise no one that these trustee boards are now dominated  by Republicans, appointed by our self-styled “business Republican” governor, Pat McCrory, former mayor of Charlotte and the archetypal Chamber of Commerce, country club executive, who sees everything, including our history and our culture, through a prism of the almighty dollar…and who, when confronted by the Cultural Marxist “mouse that roars” here in the Tar Heel State, jumps back in abject fear and cries: “Jump? Just tell me how high!!”

Just a couple of years ago my old employer, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, through its Historic Sites Division,  approved the hanging of an historic Confederate Battle Flag in the hallowed old House of Representatives chamber (1840) as part of the War Between the States Sesquincentennial. McCrory, after receiving an ominous threat from the ubiquitous leader of the state NAACP, the Reverend William Barber, ordered—over the head of his own appointee and DCR cabinet secretary who had previously approved the display—that the flag be removed.  And this came despite the fact that placing the flag in the House chamber was based on the exact historical record and contemporary photographs, plus the approval of several on-staff historians (none of them ideological conservatives), who understood that this was a recreation of an historical event, an attempt to replicate a specific moment in North Carolina’s past, and not an incitement to any kind of racialism!

That did not matter to McCrory, who acted with alacrity—within just three or four hours—to have the flag removed and consigned behind closed doors in a museum.

And now the Republican-dominated board of trustees for UNC at Chapel Hill has, it seems, taken its marching orders from the McCrory-style Republicans. Bowing to a small, vocal group of Cultural Marxists, both professors and students, they have decided to remove the hateful “Saunders Hall” name and replace it with “Carolina Hall,” which, in their broad-church approach they hope will please just about everyone! So much for these Chamber of Commerce Republicans.

All of which brings up a number of questions about historical memory, the uses (and abuses) of history, and the ongoing effort by Cultural Marxists to erase those portions of our history that do not please them and do not suit their ideological template. This kind of re-writing and erasure of history is reminiscent of, and, by leagues, worse than what occurred in the old Soviet Union; it represents a kind of symbolic totalitarianism that seeks to obliterate any symbol that indicates a different historical narrative than the one they are propagating.

Interestingly, this approach is enthusiastically bought into by many of those who supposedly claim to defend our heritage and traditions.  After all, the national GOP political guru and George W. Bush advisor, Karl Rove, touts the Cultural Marxist South-hating writer, Eric Foner, as one of his favorite historians (recall that the late Professor Eugene Genovese wrote a scathing essay attacking Foner–a defender of Stalinism–asking “what did you know and when did you know it?” about Stalin’s purges and genocidal campaigns). And the Neoconservative establishment has now canonized Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln as America’s two untouchable secular saints, while condemning Robert E. Lee, John C. Calhoun, and Thomas Jefferson to the outer reaches of non-personhood.

The Neoconservative establishment, whether ensconced in their talking perches at Fox News, on the editorial pages of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, or in the articles of NATIONAL REVIEW or THE WEEKLY STANDARD, partake of the same foundational principles and zealotry of the cultural left–across the board egalitarianism, liberal democracy, and a fanatical zeal for the global destruction of traditional societies. Their intellectual and spiritual godfather is the internationalist Marxist, Leon Trotsky, via his descendants, Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol, and their progeny.

They despise the Old South and anything that smacks of an older constitutionalism and traditional conception of society. They join the fanatical Cultural Marxists, in fact, in the attempt to “cleanse and purify” society and our history of any uncomfortable artifact that reminds us of who we were as a people, of our essential founding. Certainly, at times they take a different route and express opposition to the hard left on a few issues (e.g. Obamacare), but in the end, they cave and go along. And they must do so, as their essential principles can lead them no place else.

This, then, is what is actually behind the name changing by those pusillanimous trustees, appointed by supposed “conservative Republicans” elected by North Carolina voters. Until Tar Heels come to understand this, and react forcefully against it, things will continue to worsen, and what is left of our history and our traditions will continue to disappear…and once gone, most likely never to be recovered.

Boyd Cathey

Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.

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