Politics & Government

Statues of a Confederate officer and a white supremacist represent NC in the U.S. Capitol (for now)

A statue of Charles Aycock stands in the U.S. Capitol Crypt. Aycock was governor of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905.
A statue of Charles Aycock stands in the U.S. Capitol Crypt. Aycock was governor of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905. Brian Murphy

Slowly, National Statuary Hall, one of the most popular tourist spots in the U.S. Capitol, is starting to reflect more recent American history.

Each state is represented by two statues in the hall, and North Carolina’s representatives are – for now – two governors, Zebulon Baird Vance and Charles Aycock.

Vance was a Confederate officer, two-time governor and U.S. senator. Aycock was the state’s “education governor” – and also was a white supremacist and segregationist who as governor stripped blacks of the right to vote.

State lawmakers voted in 2015 to replace Aycock’s statue with one of Charlotte-born evangelist Billy Graham, responding to a request from Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and taking advantage of a 2003 law change that created a procedure for replacing statues.

But rules dictate that honorees be deceased, so the Aycock statute, which was placed in 1932, remains for now. It is on display in the U.S. Capitol Crypt, where one statue for each of the 13 original colonies stands.

Among the state-sponsored statues in the hall, 12 honor people with links to the Confederacy, including Vance, and none are of black Americans, according to The Washington Post. Some states have replaced their statues with more contemporary figures.

In recent years, 20th century presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan have been added, as has former presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and advocate for the blind and deaf Helen Keller.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a San Francisco Democrat, has called for the removal of Confederate statues from the Capitol in the wake of violence at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists were protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said it is up to the states to decide who is in the hall.

Graham, who is 98, would join several other faith leaders in the hall, including Father Damien, a Catholic priest who represents Hawaii, and Brigham Young, the Mormon leader who represents Utah.

“From the mountains to the coast, nothing compares to North Carolina’s values, spirit and faith,” then-Gov. Pat McCrory said at the time he signed the bill. “For many generations of North Carolinians, and people around the country and world, Billy Graham has come to personify those values.”

Aycock, North Carolina’s governor from 1901 to 1905, built a strong education infrastructure in the state, was a proponent of education programs for blacks and was a hero to many of the state’s progressive leaders. His name used to be part of the Democratic fundraising dinner in Asheville.

But Aycock also believed in the “unending separation of the races,” “the dominance of the Caucasian” and the elimination of blacks from the political process, including voting.

Under Aycock, North Carolina used poll taxes, literacy tests and the “grandfather clause” to keep blacks from voting. The “grandfather clause” disallowed anyone from voting whose grandfathers had not been eligible to vote, thus eliminating blacks of the time whose grandfathers had been slaves.

In a 1903 speech to the North Carolina Society in Baltimore, Aycock explained his views on race.

“Let the negro learn once for all that there is unending separation of the races, that the two peoples may develop side by side to the fullest but that they cannot intermingle; let the white man determine that no man shall by act or thought or speech cross this line, and the race problem will be at an end,” Aycock said.

“These things are not said in enmity to the negro but in regard for him. He constitutes one third of the population of my State: he has always been my personal friend; as a lawyer I have often defended him, and as Governor I have frequently protected him. But there flows in my veins the blood of the dominant race; that race that has conquered the earth and seeks out the mysteries of the heights and depths. If manifest destiny leads to the seizure of Panama, it is certain that it likewise leads to the dominance of the Caucasian. When the negro recognizes this fact we shall have peace and good will between the races.”

In recent years, Aycock’s name has been stripped off buildings at colleges across the state.

North Carolina’s other statue is of Vance, a slaveowner who served a short time in the Confederate army and served as the state’s 37th governor (during the Confederacy) and its 43rd governor (from 1877 to 1879). Vance died while serving as U.S. senator from North Carolina in 1894. His statue was given to the National Statuary Hall Collection in 1916.

There has been some debate about removing or “contextualizing” the Vance Monument in Pack Square in downtown Asheville.

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; @MurphinDC