Changing names is not enough

Changing names is not enough

- in Fitzsimon File

If for some reason you are hoping for a meaningful policy debate from the candidates running for Governor in 2008, the latest news from the campaign world is yet another disappointment.

Politicians and pundits are now weighing in on a flap about the name of the Democrats annual fundraising event held in Asheville every October called the Vance-Aycock dinner.  It’s named for two Democratic Governors, Zebulon Vance and Charles Aycock.

Aycock was elected in 1900 and was an unabashed white supremacist and his racist rhetoric help set the stage for the 1898 violent overthrow of the elected biracial Republican government in Wilmington.

A group of Republicans calling themselves the Carolina Stompers announced a plan to picket this year’s dinner to protest the use of Aycock’s name and according to one “Stomper,” to win back African-American voters to the Republican Party.

That might be a little tough for a Party whose major presidential candidates skipped a recent national debate at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore.

Not to mention the remarks just a few years ago of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who lamented that more people didn’t vote for segregationist Strom Thurmond for president in 1948. Lott said that the country would be a lot better off if Thurmond had been elected.  Lott is still in the United States Senate.

But the Stompers threat spurred a debate about the name of the Vance-Aycock dinner and State Treasurer and Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Richard Moore issued a news release Monday calling for the name of the annual event to be changed because of Aycock’s racist views.

Monday was the day that Moore’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue launched her campaign in New Bern. Probably just a coincidence that Moore made his statement about the Vance-Aycock dinner the same day and forced himself into the media that evening. 

A spokesperson for Perdue’s campaign said that the name probably should be changed too and Democratic Party officials say the issue will be discussed at the Party’s executive committee meeting in January.

Not much to discuss really, at least about the name. Change it. Aycock was a white supremacist and his legacy shouldn’t be honored by naming a dinner after him. That’s the easy part.

The problem is that it is the campaigns that need to change, not just the name of some fundraising dinner. Reverend William Barber, head of the state chapter of the NAACP, had it right in a statement he issued about Aycock’s name.

Barber agrees that the name of the dinner should be changed but wants politicians in both political parties to support an agenda to address racial inequality in present day North Carolina, to deal with “injustices of the past and the present.”

Perdue and Moore ought to heed Barber’s call and supporting the groups 14-point policy agenda would be a good place to start. So too would some acknowledgement of the vast disparities on a wide range of quality of life indicators that remains between the races, more than 100 years after Aycock was elected.

No candidate for governor, Democratic or Republican, has seen fit to talk much about that and unfortunately there’s plenty of disparities for them to choose from. The state poverty rate has hovered in recent years between 16 and 18 percent. Just over 12 percent of white North Carolinians are poor, 33 percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line.

African-Americans make up 60 percent of the state’s prison population but are only 21 percent of the state’s overall population. The annual HIV/AIDS case rate is 4.6 for every 100,000 white North Carolinians. It is 43.8 for African-Americans, ten times higher.

Roughly a third of the state’s high school students do not graduate in four years. Half of African-American male students don’t earn a diploma. A study by the Center for Responsible Lending shows that African Americans and Latinos are more likely to receive a higher-rate loan than white borrowers with similar qualifications.

Racial inequality is alive and well and simply changing the name of a dinner isn’t going to do anything about it. It’s time for campaigns and candidates themselves to change and start talking about the issues that matter, none more important than the intolerable racial disparities that continue to plague North Carolina.