Julian Shakespeare Carr – A Controversial Life


Julian Shakespeare Carr (1845-1924) was a businessman and philanthropist who worked as a partner in the W.T. Blackwell tobacco company, as well as in banking, railways, and public utilities. He served in the Third North Carolina Cavalry during the Civil War, led North Carolina’s United Confederate Veterans, praised slavery and the Ku Klux Klan, and backed the disenfranchisement of African Americans.

Monument Debate at University of North Carolina

At the unveiling ceremony for the Silent Sam monument at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1913, he once bragged of whipping an African American woman near the same site in 1865 for her alleged “insolence” toward a white Southern woman. This overtly white supremacist rhetoric provided the basis for student demands that Silent Sam be removed from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus, which resulted in the statue being torn down by protesters in August 2018.

Early Life (Carr, Julian Shakespeare) and Civil War

Born to merchant John Wesley and Eliza Pannill Bullock Carr in Chapel Hill, Julian Carr attended the University of North Carolina from 1862 to 1864, when he enlisted and served as a private in the Third North Carolina Cavalry of the Confederate Army. He returned to the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)for the year 1865-1866 and then migrated to Little Rock, Arkansas, to engage in business with his uncle from 1868 until 1870.


Upon returning to North Carolina, Carr joined the W.T. Blackwell & Co. Tobacco firm as a partner, receiving four thousand dollars from his father to purchase a third interest in the company. As the head of financial management for the company in North Carolina, Carr launched an energetic advertising campaign, using the Bull Durham trademark to publicize W.T. Blackwell & Co.’s tobacco product. This marketing strategy proved highly effective in bringing the company international renown and financial success. 1

After buying the interests of the other partners, Carr sold W.T. Blackwell & Co. to the American Tobacco Company in 1898 for almost three million dollars. He subsequently pursued extensive banking operations; organized and built a hosiery mill with plants in many towns across North Carolina; helped to organize and build the Durham-Roxboro Railroad; and was active in electric and telephone companies.

Furthermore, as a philanthropist, Carr contributed substantial donations to the Methodist church, the University of North Carolina, and orphanages and homes for Confederate veterans and widows. As a trustee of Trinity College, he also led a campaign to raise funds for the school’s relocation to Durham, where it was later renamed Duke University in North Carolina. 2

Business Career

While Carr’s career as a businessman and philanthropist was marked by numerous admirable achievements, his record on race relations was deeply complex, illustrating a combination of both the best and the worst elements of white Southerners’ attitudes during the Jim Crow era.

Carr’s Racist Ideology

Following his return from Appomattox, Carr boasted in his Silent Sam dedication speech, “I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.” 3

In addition, he maintained that during Reconstruction, the Confederate soldiers’ “courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South,” a romanticized reference to the Ku Klux Klan whose acts of racial terrorism were depicted as a justifiable response to the enfranchisement of newly freed African Americans. 4

Furthermore, during his career, Carr advocated the disenfranchisement of African Americans, supporting an amendment to the North Carolina constitution that established a literacy test in 1899: “The Amendment proposes to eliminate the vote of the ignorant negro and thereby increase the dignity and power of the white man’s ballot.” 5

Carr’s Contradiction

At the same time, however, Carr also contributed generously to African American schools, including the Training School for Colored People in Augusta, Georgia; “supported entrepreneurial initiatives of African American businessmen – most notably, those of John Merrick, one of the principals in the establishment of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance – and employed African Americans in production in his textile mills, fully 60 years before the practice became common in the South[.]” 6

In addition, Carr provided financial aid for a young Chinese immigrant, Charles J. Soong, to study at Trinity College and then at Vanderbilt University, which led to a lifelong friendship between the two, with Carr accepting Soong as a member of his own family. Following his return to China, Soong worked in the Methodist China Mission and established a Bible-printing business, having been baptized in the Methodist church due to Carr’s assistance. 7

It was perhaps because of his efforts on behalf of African Americans that upon Carr’s death in 1924 “a mass meeting of colored people” adopted a resolution thanking God for “the kindness and help that have come to us through the life of General Julian S. Carr, … That we offer our services and our scant means to be used along with that of other citizens of the community to perpetuate his wonderful life, … And we do herewith render his bereaved family heartfelt sympathy and sincere gratitude, such gratitude as can come only from those who in the midst of their greatest suffering have lost a true friend.” 8


Julian Carr died on April 29, 1924, and was buried in Maplewood Cemetery in Durham. His life and career were characterized by significant paradoxes and contrasts. As a philanthropist and businessman, he contributed substantially to the development of Durham and the academic institutions of both the white and black communities, yet at the same time he played a significant role in the promotion of white supremacy and Jim Crow segregation, justifying violence against African Americans and boasting of his own complicity in that violence.


The legacy of his white supremacist rhetoric thus played a major role in the toppling of Silent Sam and the ongoing debate over Confederate monuments and their ideological connotations.


1 Louise L. Queen, “Carr, Julian Shakespeare.” https://www.ncpedia.org/. NCpedia. Published 1979. Accessed

March 26, 2021. https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/carr-julian-shakespeare.

2 Queen, “Carr, Julian Shakespeare.”

3 Julian Shakespeare Carr, in “Julian Carr’s Speech at the Dedication of Silent Sam.” https://hgreen.people.ua.edu/.

Hilary N. Green, PhD. Delivered June 2, 1913. Accessed March 26, 2021.


4 Carr, in “Julian Carr’s Speech.”

5 “Julian Shakespeare Carr Papers, 1892-1923.” https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/. UNC Chapel Hill Library – Finding

Aids. Accessed March 26, 2021. https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/00141/.

6 Peter A. Colcanis, “Yes, Carr was racist. And much more.” https://www.heraldsun.com/. The Herald Sun.

Published November 3, 2017. Accessed March 26, 2021.


7 Queen, “Carr, Julian Shakespeare.”

8 Raleigh News & Observer, May 2, 1924, in Colcanis, “Yes, Carr was racist. And much more.”

One thought on “Julian Shakespeare Carr – A Controversial Life

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  1. Interesting article. My problem with wealthy philanthropists is they make their money off exploited labor and ease their guilt and satisfy their vanity with projects that should be decided by the public with fair taxes that should be levied upon them.

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