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Does owner's racism justify tearing down a National Historic Landmark in NC?

Richard Stradling and Anna Johnson, The News & Observer on

Published in News & Features

But Raleigh shouldn’t rectify its past by erasing it, says Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina. Daniels has a complex legacy, Howard says; a white supremacist, yes, but also a prominent national figure who championed public education and causes of the poor and working class.

”Preserving buildings is not about honoring individuals; it’s about recognizing where history happened,” Howard wrote in an essay in The N&O. “Historic preservation tangibly tells history’s complex stories, but only if the buildings survive.”

Howard says the request to remove Wakestone from the city’s list of historic landmarks was a cynical move to take advantage of the Black Lives Matter movement and cash in on the property, which includes nearly 4 acres in one of the city’s priciest neighborhoods.

The delisting request described the historic designation as an honor and used racist cartoons from The N&O and citations from various historical sources to illustrate Daniels’ racism. Scott Miller, the land planner who wrote the request on behalf of the Masons, said the historic designation was “a celebration of accomplishment,” and questioned whether it would happen today.

“Is white supremacy the kind of accomplishment upon which the City of Raleigh wishes to officially confer recognition?” Murray wrote. “What lesson does that convey?”

Murray also said the Masons were worried their building would become the target of unrest as social justice protesters looked for new ways to attract attention. But local activists said Wakestone wasn’t a high priority for them.

 

Dawn Blagrove, executive director of the anti-racism group Emancipate NC, says the decision to remove the landmark designation was “clearly and without question about economics.”

“It was never about concerns of social unrest,” Blagrove said. “It was never about concerns for being insensitive to Black folks and Black communities that were decimated by the Wilmington race riots. It’s about money. And I think it’s incredibly disrespectful to the memory of the families and the people who were directly and indirectly impacted by race riots.”

That said, Blagrove says she would not be sad to see the building demolished. She only wishes there was “some type of reconciliation or restorative justice” for the families who were harmed by the Wilmington riots.

The application that resulted in Wakestone becoming a National Historic Landmark in 1976 made only passing reference to Daniels’ support of white supremacy and the Wilmington coup d’etat of 1898. The resolution that made the property a local landmark in 1990 makes no reference to them at all.

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