Thursday, 30 September 2021 20:20

DPS renaming Morrison, other facilities 'with culturally antiquated names'

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DPS renaming Morrison, other facilities 'with culturally antiquated names' RO file photo

HOFFMAN — Morrison Correctional Institution is one of four state prisons being renamed, the N.C. Department of Public Safety announced in a press release Thursday.


Starting Oct. 4, the facility will be referred to as Richmond Correctional Institution.

The changes are “an effort to update them to 21st century cultural standards,” according to a press release.

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

The prison’s current name is in honor of Cameron Morrison, a Rockingham native who served as North Carolina’s 55th governor from 1921-1955. He also served as mayor of Rockingham and in the state Senate, as well as in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

According to DPS, Morrison “was a leader of the ‘Red Shirts,’ a violent, post-Civil War organization that promoted white supremacy.”

Morrison’s biography at ncpedia.com states: “The unruly and boisterous Red Shirts specialized in harassing Republican candidates and in intimidating black voters. According to Morrison, his followers never ‘bullied or beat’ blacks — just scared them.’"

However, the biography goes on to read:

“ … Morrison made a sincere effort as governor to improve race relations in the state. In 1921 he summoned a conference of prominent black and white citizens, out of which evolved the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Co-operation. More significantly, he took a vigorous stand against lynching. Due largely to Morrison's policy of dispatching troops to a locality at the slightest hint of impending violence, no lynchings occurred in North Carolina during the last three and one-half years of his term. ‘I want to let the world know,’ he declared in 1922, ‘that lynchings have ended in North Carolina.’"

Morrison CI sits on 175 acres just outside Hoffman in northeastern Richmond County, housing both medium- and minimum-security offenders, according to the facility’s website.

It opened in 1925 as the State Training School for Negro Boys at Hoffman with eight youth and was renamed Morrison Training School in 1939 and again 30 years later to Cameron Morrison School.

The history of the facility continues:

The training school closed and the facility reopened as a prison in 1977. Morrison and Sandhills Youth Center were organized as the Sandhills Youth Complex. In 1978, three of Morrison's dormitories were converted to house 100 female offenders. The Sandhills Youth Complex was then composed of Sandhills Youth Center, Cameron Morrison Youth Center and Cameron Morrison Youth Center for Females.

In 1983, the Sandhills Youth Complex was dissolved, and the female offenders were moved to Fountain Correctional Center for Women in 1984. Minimum custody males then moved into the Auman and Edwards dorms. Three wings in Newsome dormitory were left vacant because of poor physical conditions (Newsome dorm and an administrative building were renovated in 1989 to house the state's first boot camp program). In October 1988, Cameron Morrison Youth Center's name was changed to Morrison Youth Institution.

Lawmakers provided funding for the building of a 208-bed dormitory and a 20-cell segregation unit as part of the $87.5 million prison construction program authorized in 1993. Ground was broken May 4, 1994 for a chapel funded with money raised by prison volunteers.

From 1988 to 2002, Morrison Youth Institution served as a medium security prison for young male felons ages 18-21. In January 2002, Morrison was converted to a medium security facility for adult males and renamed Morrison Correctional Institution to help meet the state's growing need for adult male prison bed space. The youth offenders transferred to other youth prison facilities. In July 2002, the Impact East boot camp for probationers was closed and was reopened in June 2003 to house minimum security youthful offenders.

DPS says it “conducted an in-depth review of the historical aspects of the names of all its state-owned or operated facilities. During this review, officials  determined the names of five prison facilities should be changed in sensitivity to the cultural legacy issues that have been part of the national conversation in recent years.”

The review included the historical context of 1,893 buildings at 240 state-owned complexes.

According to DPS, the facilities’ staff had input on the new names.

“It was important to me that the staff have a say in the names of the places they work, and they preferred names with local community significance,” said Ishee. “I strongly believe they should not have to work in facilities named to honor those who may have oppressed their ancestors.”

As for the other three prisons:

  • Caledonia Correctional Institution in Tillery — which has a history of the property being used to grow and harvest crops with slave labor on a plantation — will become Roanoke River Correctional Institution.
  • Polk Correctional Institution in Butner— named for William Polk, a Revolutionary War officer who owned slaves — will become Granville Correctional Institution.
  • Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women in Black Mountain will become Western Correctional Center for Women. It’s name is tied to the construction of the Swannanoa Tunnel in nearby Asheville, “which appears to have resulted in the deaths of numerous Black offender-laborers in the late 1800s.”

DPS is also changing the name of the DART Cherry residential treatment facility in Goldsboro to simply DART Center because it was named for “ former Gov. Gregg Cherry, who advocated to drop civil rights from the Democratic party platform in the 1940s.”

DPS says “the Polk, Morrison and DART Cherry facilities were flagged when research indicated they were named for historical figures whose race-related actions do not represent DPS's values.”