Carr Washing

Silent Sam was a Confederate statue that stood on the University of North Carolina campus at Chapel Hill for 104 years after its 1913 dedication. A student mob toppled it in 2017 for being an allegedly racist symbol.

Student hatred had been growing since 2011 when UNC graduate student Adam Domby discovered an outrageously racist incident described by one of Silent Sam’s six dedication speakers. Specifically Confederate veteran Julian Carr (1845 – 1924) bragged of an event that happened only months after Appomattox upon his return to Chapel Hill at age nineteen. He personally horse-whipped an African-American “wench until her skirts hung in shreds [because] she publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.”

Although the whipping is indefensible, it appears that neither Domby or anyone in the UNC History Department bothered to learn anything more about Carr. If they had, they would have quickly discovered that he was a major North Carolina business leader and philanthropist. Moreover, he was politically progressive in a number of ways. Susan B. Anthony, for example, praised him for supporting women’s voting rights and he gave generously to colleges including Duke University and UNC. One of his favorite out-of-state charities was the Training School for Colored People in Augusta, Georgia.

He was among the first Southern textile mill owners to employ blacks in production work as opposed to maintenance. His in-state donations to black education included the North Carolina College for Negroes, presently known as North Carolina Central University. The school’s black founder praised Carr: “I have never known the first time for him to fail to give to any enterprise which he thought would benefit the colored people or to lend his influence in their behalf…I have known scores and scores of colored people who were the recipients of his kindness and generosity…I have never known a colored person too poor or ignorant who went to General Carr for assistance who did not receive the same.”

Carr also helped black educator Willam Gaston Pearson who was born a slave in 1858 and worked as a youth at the Carr Factory. Carr recognized his potential and financed his education at Shaw University where Pearson graduated in 1886 at age 28. Thereafter, Pearson began teaching in Durham. In 1922 he became principal of Durham’s Hillside Park High School. In 1931, Hillside was accredited by the Southern Association of Secondary School and Colleges, a major achievement for a black high school during the Great Depression. Pearson also made other major business, religious, and educational contributions to the Durham community.

Since academic historians negligently failed to provide their students more about Carr’s background after the one-sided Domby disclosure in 2011, their Wikipedia proxy has been scrambling recently to find more evidence of Carr’s racism in order to justify toppling the statue. Among such items are additional remarks in the dedication speech in praise of the “Anglo Saxon race.” Yes, Carr was a man of his time and place. To expect differently is like criticizing Isaac Newton for failing to invent the light bulb.

But even Abraham Lincoln made similar points in his 1858 debate with Stephen Douglas:

…I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between [us] which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race….”

Earlier historians recognized that when Southerners of Carr’s era talked of the Anglo Saxon race they had a double meaning. To be sure, white supremacy was a part of it and common among much of America at the time. But there was a second component that modern historians fail to appreciate. Specifically, such remarks were interpreted as promoting an antidote against the return of Negro Rule or Negro Domination, by which Southern whites really meant the return of Carpetbag Rule. Herbert Agar expressed the point as follows in 1950:

It was wicked to force the Negro to rule the disfranchised white man when everybody knew the position would be reversed as soon as Northerners grew sick of governing their fellow Americans with the sword. It was wicked to turn the Negro free…without thought for his future except that he must be bullied into voting Republican. It was extra wicked to commit both these cruelties simultaneously….

There is a limit beyond which only the mad moralists and the truly corrupt will go. It was the fate of the Negro…to be sacrificed to an alliance between these two. He didn’t want to run the South…But his Northern friends wanted to prove their political theories, or they simply wanted his vote. The moralist thought he could eat freedom…the others didn’t think at all, beyond the next election. But…he gave them his vote, since they asked for it. And the white South has not forgiven him in eighty years….*

Nonetheless, today’s politically correct zealots are trying to remove Julian Carr’s name from everything where is was used originally to honor him. North Carolina advocates call it “Carr Washing.” As a result, they’ve circulated a petition to rename the town of Carrboro. Despite his crucial support for Duke University, the school removed his name from Carr Hall. Durham removed his name from a Junior High School. The list goes on and on.

It is impossible to imagine a circumstance under which nineteen-year-old Julian Carr’s “horse whipping” of a black “wench,” as he descried it, only months after Appomattox can be excused. Neither, however, can any UNC historian be excused for using Carr’s remarks to provoke a student mob to destroy Sam’s statue while leaving the students ignorant of the remarks from the other dedication speakers as well as significant contradictory evidence regarding Carr’s full racial attitudes.

* Herbert Agar The Price of Union, 466-67

About Philip Leigh

Philip Leigh contributed twenty-four articles to The New York Times Disunion blog, which commemorated the Civil War Sesquicentennial. He is the author of U.S. Grant's Failed Presidency, Southern Reconstruction (2017), Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies (2015), and Trading With the Enemy (2014). Phil has lectured a various Civil War forums, including the 23rd Annual Sarasota Conference of the Civil War Education Association and various Civil War Roundtables. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology and an MBA from Northwestern University. More from Philip Leigh

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