‘Silent Sam’ benefactor Julian Carr impacted North Carolina in countless ways

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The sad “Silent Sam” controversy in Chapel Hill prompted me to want to learn about Julian Carr, the businessman whose racist comments at the statue’s unveiling in 1913 helped spark today’s horrible conflict.

What’s clear is that he had a huge impact on North Carolina as one of the most important business leaders in state history. Born in 1845 and part of an affluent family, he joined the Confederate Army at age 18 and may have attended the Appomattox, Va., surrender that ended the war in 1865, according to Jule Carr, a biography by Mena Webb published in 1987 by the UNC Press.

Over the next six decades, Carr played pivotal roles developing North Carolina’s tobacco and electric power industries and the N.C. Railroad. He helped organize banks, hosiery companies and owned a newspaper. He sold his tobacco interests for $3 million to American Tobacco Co. in 1898, historians Louise Queen and William Powell wrote. His three great loves were the Methodist Church, the University of North Carolina, and Confederate veterans, the authors said.

As a trustee at Trinity College, he donated land and led a campaign to move the school from Randolph County to Durham. With funds provided by fellow industrialist J.B. Duke, the college became Duke University.

Carr was among the organizers of the Methodist-owned Lake Junaluska retreat center near Waynesville. He provided land for Durham’s public library, the first in the state. And, of course, the town of Carrboro bears his name.

While Carr died in 1924, members of his extended family — he and his wife, Nadine, had six children — have been and remain active in N.C. business, legal and philanthropic affairs.

None of this excuses racism, of course. As author Taylor Branch wrote, “the United States is probably the most successful political experiment of all time, but it is not utopia. The greatest of its flaws and failings have been in the area of race.”

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