Changing Carrboro’s Namesake, Not Its Name

Sydney Runkle

GUEST COLUMN

By Sydney Runkle

I am rising senior at Chapel Hill High School who loves the Carrboro community, and I am hoping to affect positive, local change.

Whether you are a resident of Carrboro, a neighbor in nearby Chapel Hill or simply a visitor to our town, it’s hard to miss Carrboro’s welcoming spirit and civic offerings. Our town is nationally recognized for its bustling farmers market, lively art and music scene, outstanding school system, thriving small businesses and active outdoor community.

Over the past few decades, Carrboro has become one the most dynamic and forward-thinking towns in the South.

However, an unfortunate history looms over our town, rooted in the community’s name. Shortly after Carrboro’s incorporation in 1911, textile mill owner Julian Carr negotiated to have the town renamed after him.

What has recently become more widely known is that Carr was a supporter of the KKK, a slaveholder and a ruthless industrialist. Carr’s name has been prevalent in recent news cycles because of his dedication speech for the erection of the Silent Sam statue on the UNC campus.

The Silent Sam statue, presented under the guise of a civil war memorial, was actually a symbol of the repression of people of color. Carr’s doctrine was utterly repugnant, and would not be condoned in our community today — so why are we still associating our great town with a man representing such a hurtful philosophy?

While there has been recent discussion about renaming Carrboro after someone whose philosophy better represents our community’s values, there are many challenges associated with such a process. Barriers to a town name change include administrative logistics and expenses, remaking public signage and inconveniences to local businesses.

Fortunately, there is an alternative solution.

We propose a change in the namesake of Carrboro to someone whose life’s work better represents our community’s principles. The new namesake should embody the spirit of our welcoming and forward-leaning town, and should be dedicated to someone whose story makes us proud to call our town our home.

There are a multitude of figures who have left positive marks on history whose actions and philosophies better represent our town’s values. It is appropriate, during the age of the Black Lives Matter movement, to recognize the important and significant contributions to civil rights
that people of color have made.

Johnnie Carr, a childhood friend of Rosa Parks, helped facilitate the desegregation of schools and the bus boycotts in Montgomery, AL. Carr’s advocacy for equality and equity in the South is reflective of Carrboro’s conscience. Fittingly, Carr was born in 1911, the year of Carrboro’s incorporation.

Therefore, we advocate for a re-designation of our town’s namesake to Johnnie Carr, realigning our community’s name with her values.

While some may argue that realigning Carrboro’s namesake is erasing history, this is simply not the case. Julian Carr and his flagrantly discriminatory associations with the town will always remain a part of this community’s history. Renaming a monument, building or even a
town namesake will not erase this history, but instead build upon it, using lessons learned to foster a better future. Such a process embodies a shift in values and reconsideration of legacy.

Re-associating our town with a more appropriate historical figure, more specifically a powerful woman of color, will by no means negate Carrboro’s painful history. Instead, it shines a bright light into our future as we proactively re-identify ourselves as a community seeking inclusion, diversity, excellent education for all and equitable representation.

Amid current racial justice movements and the increasing demand for social reform, the time is ripe for change in Carrboro. Carrboro celebrates a uniquely progressive, increasingly diverse and welcoming atmosphere.

Additionally, our community often has taken the lead on progressive advances, from relatively early integration of its school system to electing a gay mayor in the 1990s. We urge our town to set a powerful example during this critical period by promoting tangible change.

We appeal to our Town Council, the Truth Plaque Committee and Mayor Lydia Lavelle to rebrand Carrboro by adopting Johnnie Carr, a figure that epitomizes the values of Carrboro, as its new namesake.

Sign the petition to change Carrboro’s namesake here: https://www.change.org/change-the-carrboro-namesake.

Sydney Runkle is a student at Chapel Hill High School.

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2 Comments on "Changing Carrboro’s Namesake, Not Its Name"

  1. Charles G Humble | July 18, 2020 at 2:48 pm | Reply

    As a non-resident of Carrboro I don’t think I can vote on this name change, but the arguments for doing so are well put and hit the right notes for me. Mr. Carr’s time has passed.

  2. Ellie Kinnaird | July 20, 2020 at 4:31 pm | Reply

    Interesting idea. Time for a discussion. Good for you!

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