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Charlotte Library Drops White Supremacist Governor's Name From SouthPark Branch

The Morrison Regional Branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library will be renamed.
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The Morrison Regional Branch of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library will be renamed.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is removing former North Carolina Gov. Cameron Morrison's name from its SouthPark branch because his "historic and documented actions do not align with the Library's current statement on racism and inequality," officials said this week.

Morrison, who died in 1953, became governor in 1921 and served one term. Before that he was a leader of a group called the "Red Shirts" that, according to NCpedia and the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, "promoted white supremacy tactics" and "specialized in harassing Republican candidates and in intimidating Black voters."

In 1898, Morrison was involved in a white supremacy campaign in the state, according to David Zucchino, a journalist who chronicled one of the darkest chapters in North Carolina's history in "Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy."

"He (was) one of the orators out on the campaign trail — one of the leading white supremacists of his day," Zucchino told WFAE's Charlotte Talks in February. "And in fact his performance during this white supremacy campaign got him elected governor."

Morrison wasn't from Charlotte but his descendants donated land for the library branch in 1989.

“Systemic racism and inequity have no place in public libraries other than as recorded history to remind us how we got to this moment in time,” Charlotte Mecklenburg Library CEO Lee Keesler said in a news release. “As a trusted institution, we are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone in our community.”

The branch will now be called SouthPark Regional Library. The new name, Keesler said, fits better with the idea that public libraries should be "inclusive and welcoming spaces for all residents."

Its address, though, remains on Morrison Boulevard, a thoroughfare next to the SouthPark Mall. Much of the area around the shopping center is on land once owned by Morrison, who built a farm there, according to History South.

Morrison, a Democrat, was also known as the "good roads governor" for pushing the General Assembly to pay for about 5,500 miles of paved streets. He later served in Congress, both as a senator and member of the House of Representatives, according to the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Family members worked with the library on removing Morrison's name, and the decision came after a vote by the library's board of trustees that followed an audit to assess the system's collections and commemorations.

“We remain as committed to building a stronger Charlotte-Mecklenburg today as we did when we gifted land more than 30 years ago for a needed library,” Johnny Harris, one of Morrison's grandchildren, said in the library's announcement.

The library system says it's also renaming several other commemorations across its branches. It's the latest in a wave of buildings, monuments and other commemorations to be renamed or removed following protests against systemic racism this summer.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced plans to rename all schools whose namesakes had ties to racism this summer. The first was Vance High, named after a former governor who was a slaveholder and Confederate officer. Earlier this month, that school was renamed after civil rights activist and attorney Julius Chambers.

In July, Queens University of Charlotte renamed a building whose namesake, Margaret Burwell and her husband, Robert Burwell, were slaveholders who led a movement to keep enslaved people from worshipping at a church in Orange County.

Morrison's name was also removed this year from a dorm at N.C A&T State University, a historically Black school in Greensboro.

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Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.