Wake County Schools

Daniels Middle School renamed for Oberlin, historic freedman's community

Posted June 16, 2020 7:33 a.m. EDT
Updated June 16, 2020 10:27 p.m. EDT

— On Tuesday morning Daniels Middle School was still named after a white supremacist who rabble-roused deadly riots in Wilmington.

By Tuesday evening, officials voted to rename the school Oberlin Middle School--a name which reflects the community where it resides.

Oberlin Village was a historic freedman's village, a community of freed slaves built by the men and women emancipated from slavery, including families from the nearby Cameron Plantation.

James E. Harris, who had been enslaved on the Cameron Plantation, established Oberlin Village in 1866, during the Reconstruction period, and named it for his alma mater, Oberlin College in Ohio, which was a known abolitionist college.

Oberlin Village thrived for decades, with black business owners, politicians and leaders making waves in NC, founding schools like NCCU and Latta University.

However, when the land along Oberlin Road was rezoned for commercial use, developments and growth slowly eroded the village.

Ruth Little, a historian for Oberlin Village, wrote in the Historic Landmark Designation for Oberlin Cemetery, "By 1960 the encroachment of Raleigh and the rezoning of land along Oberlin Road for commercial usage began to erode the village’s identity as an independent African American community."

Josephus Daniels' statue removed

Earlier Tuesday morning, a statue of Josephus Daniels was also removed from Nash Square in downtown Raleigh.

Josephus Daniels was once the publisher of the News and Observer. In 1985, his statue was installed across from the old location of the News & Observer in honor of his role in creating one of the nation's newspapers.

However, despite being honored for his role in creating the paper, he also played a role in stirring a deadly race riot. In the late 1890s, he was known for writing editorials and propaganda to generate fear and anger toward black people.

His writings helped incited the Wilmington riot of 1898, when black-owned businesses were burned and dozens of black residents were killed.

His great-grandson Frank Daniels III said Josephus Daniels also had a history of public service, including bolstering the women's suffrage movements and helping establish public schools.

But he said given Daniels' racist views--and the recent nationwide protests--the family decided the statue should come down.

"We don't condone his views on race and his actions on race, and we didn't want that statue to stand in this time of reckoning, really, of where we stand as a country and state on equity and fairness," said Frank.

Plus, he said, with the old News & Observer building torn down, the statue was standing in Nash Square with no context.

Frank was on site Tuesday and said the family approved the removal of the statue. It will be placed in storage until the family can find a "suitable location on private property," he said.

"Josephus Daniels’ legacy of service to North Carolina and our country does not transcend his reprehensible stance on race and his active support of racist activities," Frank Daniels said. "In the 75 years since his death, The N&O and our family have been a progressive voice for equality for all North Carolinians, and we recognize this statue undermines those efforts.”

He added, "That part of his life is not something that we deny. We just think his statue is better suited on private property, not on public land – a place that is for all people of North Carolina."

Frank Daniels, who is a former editor of the News and Observer, says the family will keep the statue in storage until they can find an appropriate place on private property.

Daniels Middle School, also named after Josephus Daniels, has name changed

Tuesday evening, during the Wake County Public Schools board meeting, it was unanimously voted that the school name be changed to Oberlin Middle School.

Frank Daniels told WRAL News that, while the school name isn't his decision, he is still proud of his family name.

"That's the choice of the school board," he said. "I believe the Daniels family stands for equity, equality and for public service. I believe that Daniels Middle School is a good name."

Keith Sutton, chairman of the school board introduced the measure for the school name to be changed. After comments by each board member, it was unanimously passed that the name would change.

"Teachers, parents, former teachers, former students have all reached out, so I think that has added more of a sense of urgency than the removal (Tuesday) morning," Sutton said before Tuesday's meeting.

Frank Daniels said his great-grandfather had a long history of public service to the state, including women's suffrage movements and helping establish public schools in North Carolina.

Josephus Daniels also served two government jobs, as Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1921 and as ambassador to Mexico from 1933 to 1942.

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