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North Carolina prisons rename locales over racist histories

Overhead look at the Caledonia Correctional Institution
Prison Insight
via Flickr
Caledonia Correctional Institution in Tillery, N.C

Four North Carolina state prisons and a drug addiction treatment facility for probationers are getting their names changed because of histories connected to racism or slavery, the Department of Public Safety announced Thursday.

The renamings, which take effect Monday, follow a department review during the past year of the historical context of the names of nearly 1,900 buildings at complexes owned or operated by the department.

Two of the five facilities had been named for 20th century Governors Cameron Morrison and Gregg Cherry.

The adjustments reflect a recent nationwide reassessment of names for government buildings linked to matters of racism and oppression.

“These changes are being made to better reflect the diversity of modern-day society,” state Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee said in a news release. “In this day and age, it is unacceptable to maintain facility names with negative historical connotations.”

Morrison Correctional Institution in Hoffman will become Richmond Correctional Institution, while the DART Cherry residential treatment facility in Goldsboro will simply be the DART Center.

Morrison, who was governor from 1921 to 1925, was at the close of the 19th century the leader of the “Red Shirts,” whose members intimidated Black voters and backed white supremacy.

Cherry, the governor from 1945 to 1949, had “advocated to drop civil rights from the Democratic party platform,” the department said.

The agency said Caledonia Correctional Institution in Tillery will become Roanoke River Correctional Institution. Polk Correctional Institution in Butner will be renamed Granville Correctional Institution. And Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women in Black Mountain will become Western Correctional Center for Women.

Caledonia refers to an antebellum plantation on the prison property where slave labor worked in the fields, the department said. Polk is linked to William Polk, a Revolutionary War officer who owned slaves, while Swannanoa refers to the construction of an Asheville tunnel that resulted in the deaths of numerous Black prisoners who worked on it in the late 1800s.

Workers at the five facilities, many of whom are Black, had input on the renaming.

“I strongly believe they should not have to work in facilities named to honor those who may have oppressed their ancestors,” Ishee said.

Morrison may be best known as a "good roads governor" for his efforts to get the legislature to borrow money to build a modern network of highways.

Some historians have described Cherry as having a moderate streak on matters of race, in part by refusing to join the “Dixiecrat” movement within the national Democratic Party that led to Strom Thurmond running for president in 1948 as a third-party candidate.

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