Carolina Hall
May 31, 2015 1:16 PM   Subscribe

On Thursday, the Board of Trustees of UNC- Chapel Hill voted to change the name of Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall. "University trustees made [an error] in 1920 when they recognized William L. Saunders’ leadership in the Ku Klux Klan as a qualification for naming a building in his honor."

The building was named after William L. Saunders , a university trustee, and also, at one time, the chief organizer of the KKK in North Carolina.

A group of students, faculty members, and community members called The Real Silent Sam Coalition after a statue of a confederate soldier on campus, had been pushing to rename the hall to Zora Neale Hurston Hall, who took classes at, but was not allowed to formally attend UNC Chapel Hill.

Reaction to the new name was mixed, with some glad to see the hall renamed, but others calling the new name a cop out and angered by the accompanying 16 year moratorium on renaming buildings on campus.
posted by damayanti (31 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
The UNC system and UNC-CH in particular have a big Pat McCrory problem.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:41 PM on May 31, 2015 [10 favorites]


Trustees said they struggled with the controversial issue, and some who voted for the change said they were initially inclined not to erase a piece of history from the university landscape.

This sort of attitude gets voiced a lot.

I have no hard statistics on this, but somehow I feel the people who don't want to "erase history" are the same ones who respond to any actual discussion of the building being named after honor a KKK leader with "shut up."
posted by mark k at 1:42 PM on May 31, 2015 [17 favorites]


The UNC system and UNC-CH in particular have a big Pat McCrory problem.

Yes, we certainly do.
posted by Token Meme at 1:51 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


The 16 year moratorium thing is such a ridiculous example of present-day American conservatism it's almost funny. "OKAY, WE'VE GIVEN IN ON THIS ONE THING BUT WE ARE KEEPING THE STATUS QUO AT THIS EXACT POINT."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:55 PM on May 31, 2015 [35 favorites]


From the first link: Gardner congratulated student activists for their perseverance but added: “Now I hope you direct your passion on more substantial issues.”

In addition to being a bitter apologist of racist history, how staggeringly condescending and rude. How dare students investigate the history of their own institution.
posted by missmary6 at 1:56 PM on May 31, 2015 [54 favorites]


That stuck out to me too. If it wasn't enough of a "substantial issue," how come it took so much effort on the part of the students before the trustees would agree to change it?
posted by sallybrown at 1:59 PM on May 31, 2015 [9 favorites]


In addition to being a bitter apologist of racist history, how staggeringly condescending and rude. How dare students investigate the history of their own institution.


There's some interesting further conversation about that quote you can read on Alston Gardner's twitter account.
posted by damayanti at 2:00 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


They could just say it's now named after George Saunders, who is super fucking awesome and well deserving of a building named in his honor.
posted by nevercalm at 2:03 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


Something I always found fascinating when at UNC was the tension between Silent Sam and the Unsung Founders Memorial, which is discussed a little in this op-ed.

Basically, in 2002 UNC students raised money for a memorial to "The People Of Color Bound And Free Who Helped Build The Carolina That We Cherish Today." This memorial was meant not only to honor those founders - particularly since the part of campus on which it appears is the oldest part of UNC and was therefore built with slave labor - but to create a visual dialogue with Silent Sam.

Thing of it is... the design of the memorial is basically a picnic table. A picnic table held up by dozens of tiny bronze slaves. On top of which one can regularly see white students sitting. Whereas Silent Sam is like 15-20 feet tall, Unsung Founders is maybe a couple of feet off the ground, with the actual slave figures less than a foot high each.

I think it was designed that way as a statement, but in my opinion it SEVERELY backfired. Like, I get it, but a memorial for the dead should not be making a tricky ironic statement. I really think it should have been WAY larger and more prominent, and frankly more respectful. In an ideal world, I think the memorial should have been placed right next to Silent Sam, and have been at least as tall.

Incidentally, in discussions about Silent Sam it is often mentioned that Sam is honoring dead alumni (as an argument for keeping it as it is), but in 2007 UNC actually dedicated another memorial (we're lousy with memorials) honoring fallen alumni from every war since the University's founding, including the Civil War.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:04 PM on May 31, 2015 [9 favorites]


Why 16 years? That sounds pretty specific.
posted by gingerest at 2:08 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, at least it isn't the twenty-year Constitutionally mandated moratorium on prohibiting slavery.
posted by Etrigan at 2:13 PM on May 31, 2015


A similar thing happened with a statue at SLU recently. I kind of love the Post-Dispatch reporter insisting that there could be some question as to whether or not Pierre-Jean De Smet is trying to convert these Native Americans to Christianity.
posted by almostmanda at 2:19 PM on May 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


almostmanda: that statue could be used in a dictionary to illustrate the word "condescending".
posted by idiopath at 3:36 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


"The 16 year moratorium thing is such a ridiculous example of present-day American conservatism it's almost funny. "OKAY, WE'VE GIVEN IN ON THIS ONE THING BUT WE ARE KEEPING THE STATUS QUO AT THIS EXACT POINT.""

Don't worry, I'm sure the endemic legacy of racism will be totally a non-issue by 2031!
posted by klangklangston at 3:47 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


"I'm sure the endemic legacy of racism will be totally a non-issue..." after two terms with a nice White Male Republican President.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:48 PM on May 31, 2015


It never fails to astound me that an appreciable number of people in America see the time when people could legally own and abuse other people as a tragically lost golden age.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:45 PM on May 31, 2015 [10 favorites]


Oh and also that memorial picnic table looks like the statue of muggles being crushed underfoot from Harry Potter.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:50 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


I feel the people who don't want to "erase history" are the same ones who respond to any actual discussion of the building being named after honor a KKK leader with "shut up."

There's a small debate going on right now in DC over whether to rename a fountain named after one of the founders of a whites-only subdivision because of his racism. The fact that the city the fountain is in is steeped, down to its very namesake, in white supremacy that cannot be erased by simple renaming is one of the counterarguments. I'm guessing this is the case in North Carolina as well.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:56 PM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course if Sunders had gone on the espouse the 'correct' opinions later on in life it would be A-Fucking-OK to name things after him.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:57 PM on May 31, 2015


The 16 year moratorium thing is such a ridiculous example of present-day American conservatism it's almost funny. "OKAY, WE'VE GIVEN IN ON THIS ONE THING BUT WE ARE KEEPING THE STATUS QUO AT THIS EXACT POINT."

I dunno, it's odd but I find it sort of charming these days when conservatives are actually, literally conservative; that term has become so associated with a particular brand of radical homophobic/misogynist Christian fundamentalist fantasy-based revanchism, a 'return' to a status quo that didn't even ever actually exist, that when it's merely holding the line at the status quo... it's almost quaint.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:22 PM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


But what kind of philosophy is "holding the line"? I guess if you're timid, incurious, and not-too-bright it probably has its appeal.
posted by maxwelton at 11:25 PM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course if Sunders had gone on the espouse the 'correct' opinions later on in life it would be A-Fucking-OK to name things after him.

Yes, repudiating repugnant beliefs is a good thing. I think society is better for having the ability to forgive past wrongs.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:01 AM on June 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is just about the only good news out of my alma mater in the last half-decade.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:34 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


And deliberately of not, a well-timed bit of feel-good news following the earlier announcement of four dozen degree programs being cancelled. The final word from the vice president of the academic planning committee begins, "We’re capitalists..."
posted by ardgedee at 5:05 AM on June 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


In addition to being a bitter apologist of racist history, how staggeringly condescending and rude. How dare students investigate the history of their own institution.

There's some interesting further conversation about that quote you can read on Alston Gardner's twitter account.


Alston Gardner's tweets about this are appalling and also spot-on representative of the subtle white supremacist mansplaining (as a friend put it) that tends to happen here, both in online discourse and in IRL conversation. What conservatives claim upsets them/the "real issues" are "the sorry state of black men on our campus" (the condescension in that phrase alone fills me with so much rage I can barely type). See also: "black-on-black violence" as a way to dismiss unarmed citizens being shot and killed by police. See also: the "the problem with black people is that they wear their shorts too low" email falsely attributed to Bill Cosby.

Many conservatives will also complain that we're unnecessarily dredging up "the past" and that we should just let it be in "the past." I also heard this argument when the civil rights museum finally opened on the site of Woolworth's in Greensboro.

Basically, the positions of conservatives in this region* range from the pragmatic but tone-deaf (renaming a building is but a mere band-aid on a centuries-old problem) to the baffled and hand-wavy dismissive (the past is the past! fine whatever let's pick the most generic name for the building if you kids are gonna make a big stink about it) to the outright not-so-secret yearning for the good ol' days when white people ran everything. At all stops along the way, they will hasten to explain how black people can help themselves. As a bonus, they might mention "reverse racism." At no point in the conversation will they acknowledge white privilege or economic injustice.

*I wrote my master's thesis at UNC-CH on the Klan, so I've spent a fair amount of time reading racist screeds of all flavors. I hope it is clear that I do not agree with any of them.
posted by witchen at 8:16 AM on June 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


I guess it's a sign of getting older, and perhaps the afterglow of the marriage equality referendum here in .ie, but I'm currently loving the way the next generation is rolling up its sleeves and fixing shit. Zora Neale Hurston Hall would have been a brilliant name, and this change is just a small step forward, but every time something small happens to make bigots feel lonelier and more isolated it thrills my cynical little heart.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 9:25 AM on June 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Of course if Sunders had gone on the espouse the 'correct' opinions later on in life it would be A-Fucking-OK to name things after him."

Since most of those things were named after 1968, which seems an effective date for placing Byrd's change of legislative heart (he voted — filibustered even — against the Civil Rights Act of '64 and voted against the Voting Rights Act of '66, but enthusiastically supported the Civil Rights [Fair Housing] Act of '68), I have less of a problem with that. It's also worth noting that the monument he arguably championed the most doesn't have Byrd's name on it anywhere (Byrd was the primary legislative champion for funding the memorial monument).
posted by klangklangston at 12:15 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm bad at twitter, and don't know how to link to a tweet, but this is a tweet of Alston Garder's that particularly frustrates me:

AlstonGardner ‏@AlstonGardner May 28 @thatswack683 @Fraankie_T ZN
Hurston was a fine author, but had little real connection to UNC.


No. She had a great connection to UNC. She attended classes there. Gardner implies her non-matriculated status reduces her connection to the university. Why wasn't she a "real" student? The college prohibited any student of color from enrolling! When institutions want to name buildings for founders and people of influence or money, we end up with every building named after white men. When we evaluate certain people's contributions as insufficient for honor, we willfully and wrongfully overlook the circumstances that facilitated or denied their participation. Zora Neale Hurston did not graduate from UNC and she was not a matriculated student because those opportunities were impossible for her.

Hurston fudged her birth date to financially attend high school, and finally earned a bachelors at age 37. She is a towering figure in literature, but also a role model of perseverance in obtaining a meaningful education. UNC officials should be absolutely, utterly ashamed at themselves.
posted by missmary6 at 10:23 PM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Of course if Sunders had gone on the espouse the 'correct' opinions later on in life it would be A-Fucking-OK to name things after him.

Do we really need scare quotes when "correct" is not being in the Ku Klux Klan?
posted by Etrigan at 3:13 AM on June 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I took the scarequotes to mean, "mouthing the words without changing his mind."
posted by ardgedee at 5:10 AM on June 2, 2015


missmary6, it reveals the attitude of the UNC administrators: being a student is not a "real connection to UNC." Being a donor is.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:19 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


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