Local Politics

Name of big Democratic dinner leaves some with a bad taste

Posted October 5, 2007 8:52 p.m. EDT
Updated October 5, 2008 6:44 a.m. EDT

— The biggest fundraiser of the year for state Democrats will happen Saturday in Asheville, the Vance-Aycock Dinner.

One of its namesakes was Charles Aycock, who was elected governor in 1900. However, a man running for governor said Friday that the name needs to go because Aycock was a racist.

Aycock grew up on a farm north of Goldsboro, now a state historic site. A museum tells of the man's life – the laudable and the lamentable.

“Well, we do address the white supremacy issue in our exhibit area,” said Leigh Strickland, museum manager.

The exhibit names Aycock among Democrats who made speeches to "scare blacks away" from politics – speeches that led to the fatal Wilmington race riots of 1898.

Also in the museum, a white supremacy campaign button and troublesome sketches about a man revered as the education governor.

But Aycock has been hailed over the past century as North Carolina's "Education Governor." He's credited for building 1,100 schools during his four years in office. He has a statue at the state capitol. And the Aycock birthplace is a state historic site off U.S. 117 in Wayne County.

Some believe his racist rhetoric overshadows all that.

One of the Democratic candidates for the gubernatorial nomination, state Treasurer Richard Moore, has called on his party to remove the Aycock name from its yearly fundraising dinner. A party spokeswoman said it would be a collective decision.

"When you read Gov. Aycock's speeches and understand the full, unvarnished history, the only conclusion is that he fought against the principles that the Democratic Party stands for," Moore wrote in a news release this week.

Kerra Bolton, with the State Democratic Party, said the party should be allowed to decide what it wants to call its statewide event.

Locals at the Capitol Cafe in Fremont, just up the road from the Aycock home place, called the whole thing petty politics.

"I just think it's the pits, I just think it's uncalled for," said Charlotte Aycock, whose husband is a descendant of the governor. "It's like pulling something out of a pit that has been buried. It's so unnecessary because he was very much in favor of all children."

Buena Vista Boyland lived in Wayne County as a child and is related to Aycock's descendants.

"And I was always proud to have the Aycock name in my family, and to hear it denigrated at this point kind of follows a trend that's happening all over the country – looking for the negative,” she said. “I think it’s untimely (and) unnecessary, and it’s political.”

Party officials said the dinner doesn't honor Aycock. The name is used out of respect for tradition. The party plans to bring up the name change idea at its next meeting in January.