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CMS Will Rename Barringer Elementary In Ongoing Quest To Eliminate Racist Names

Charlotte developer Osmond Barringer is listed as the namesake for Barringer Academic Center on the school's website.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Osmond Barringer, an early 20th century developer and automobile enthusiast, is listed as the namesake for Barringer Academic Center on the school's website.

Updated Oct. 28.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools launched a renaming process for Barringer Academic Center on Wednesday after learning that it's named for three advocates of white supremacy.

Barringer is a west Charlotte elementary school that hosts a magnet program for gifted students. The school’s website says it is named for Osmond L. Barringer, who developed the area off West Boulevard where the school sits and donated land for the school in the 1950s.

“In the first half of the twentieth century, Osmond L. Barringer was one of Charlotte's most colorful promoters,” the school page says. “Mr. Barringer was the first resident to own a car in the state and also the owner of the city's first automobile (a steam-powered Locomobile) in 1900. He was co-owner of the first Charlotte Speedway opened in 1924. He often acted as a driver for four presidents when they visited the area and was the first automobile dealer in Charlotte.”

That sounded about right to Tom Hanchett, a local historian and author who is married to school board member Carol Sawyer.

"I had long known that Osmond Barringer was a developer who created a big swath of the West Boulevard corridor beginning back in the 1920s," Hanchett said Tuesday.

Looking Deeper

In June, Superintendent Earnest Winston announced that he planned to identify and remove all school names tied to racism and slavery. Hanchett wanted to know more about Barringer.

Article on the naming of Barringer School from the Nov. 9, 1952, Charlotte Observer.
Article on the naming of Barringer School from the Nov. 9, 1952, Charlotte Observer.

First he found a 1952 Charlotte Observer article about the naming of the school. It said Osmond Barringer donated the land but named the school after his father and brother.

"I had been aware of his father, General Rufus Barringer, but did not know about his brother, Paul Barringer," Hanchett said.

Rufus Barringer was a general in the Confederate Army, which might have been a problem in itself. But then there was Paul Barringer, a physician and chairman of the faculty at University of Virginia. He was described in the 1952 article as someone who had “adopted scientific practices ahead of their time.”

Hanchett found writings and speeches that elaborated on one of those ideas, known as scientific racism. It emerged in the early 20th century "and it was people who were using Darwin’s theory and related science to quote-unquote prove that African Americans were genetically inferior and should be kept out of any sort of equality."

Hanchett found that Paul Barringer advocated segregation and eugenics to protect white racial purity. He also learned that the University of Virginia had removed Paul Barringer’s name from a hospital wing because of his active promotion of racism.

Osmond Barringer Was White Supremacist

Osmond Barringer was just as problematic.

Hanchett had already researched a turn-of-the-century movement that openly promoted white supremacy. A book published earlier this year, "Wilmington's Lie," detailed how this movement launched a bloody coup against Black elected officials on North Carolina's coast.

Tom Hanchett

As part of their successful campaign for poll taxes and literacy tests that would keep Black people from voting, this group had led a parade in Charlotte.

"Back then we didn’t have a Ku Klux Klan," Hanchett said. "We didn’t have people in white robes, but the leaders of the white supremacy movement urged that everyone dress in red shirts, and there was a grand march of several hundred people up Tryon Street in the summer of 1900."

Hanchett checked his research materials on the Red Shirt parade: "The marshall, the parade organizer for Charlotte Township, was Osmond L. Barringer."

The Barringer school website notes that Osmond Barringer donated land for nearby Revolution Park. But Hanchett documented that the gift came with a clause saying that "if African Americans are ever permitted to use the facility, the property would revert to Osmond Barringer." The NAACP sued Barringer and the city in 1951. Barringer continued to argue for segregation, Hanchett says.

Part Of A Movement

The renaming of Barringer Academic Center is part of a nationwide movement to eliminate tributes and monuments to white supremacists. Winston, who is the second Black superintendent of CMS, says the district will change any schools "named after individuals who owned slaves or promoted slavery, expressed racist or bigoted views, actively fought against equality" or otherwise demonstrated values CMS does not support.

Earlier this month, the school board voted to change the name of Zebulon Vance High to Julius L. Chambers High in August. Vance was a governor who fought for the Confederacy and owned slaves. Chambers was a civil rights lawyer who fought for school desegregation, including in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that led to busing for integration in CMS.

Thelma Byers-Bailey, vice chair of the school board, said Wednesday she thinks several more schools may need to be renamed.

"Names and symbols matter. They reflect who we are and what we believe. Our country’s painful, shameful history of racial injustice is the backdrop to this endeavor," Byers-Bailey said. "We want our schools, in their name as well as their instructional practices, to offer inspiration to every student."

The latest action casts an ironic light on the 1952 article detailing the Barringer family history. The writer described the school as “built more for the future than the present,” and concluded that “it would seem that Barringer School is aptly named.”

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.