Column: Shape your histories

As I swiped through my Snapchat feed one day this February, the photos of people navigating the streets of New Orleans alongside those cooped up studying for midterms suddenly gave way to an old photo of a black-and-white cutout from Duke University’s student newspaper.

The gripping clip from The Chronicle prompted me to shuffle through this friend’s postings again, largely to try to find its date.

I finally found the printed date — Feb. 14, 1969.

Reading more closely, I learned that the clipping covered the “Allen Building Takeover,” when between 50 and 75 Duke students occupied Duke’s Allen Building and published a list of demands.

Most students were members of the Afro-American society; they staged a peaceful protest to draw attention to the need for an African-American studies department and other issues.

This friend had waded into Duke’s vast archives, emerging with yellowed newspaper clippings and a richer understanding of this historical chapter.

“After the actions taken by the administration yesterday, it seems almost trivial to argue about the validity or invalidity of the demands presented by black students ... they left the building peacefully before the riot squad came. But the police still came.

Then came the tear gas.”

It’s almost too obvious to write this, but I’ll write it anyway: How much has changed?

Clicking through the articles, thoughts of the tear gas unleashed on the peaceful Charlotte protests engulfed me.

The bricks of our own campus capture similar stories — of both institutional injustice and of defiant activism.

The exhibit in Carolina Hall admirably tells the history of Saunders’ KKK past.

Importantly, it highlights the long and organized student movements that have pushed, from the 1990s through its renaming in 2015, to remove Saunders’ name from the building.

Most upperclassmen may be intimately familiar with the story of how student advocates pushed the Board of Trustees to change the name of Saunders Hall to Hurston Hall.

As I think back on the history that we have watched over our tenure at UNC, I sincerely hope that memorials like those in Carolina Hall allow UNC’s Class of 2021 to have as clear a picture of the Real Silent Sam Coalition’s influence on the architecture of our campus as the Class of 2017 has.

And the state’s racial legacy lives on in our buildings, even in subtleties.

I participated in the public hearing right around this time, held by the Chapel Hill Town Council covering the proposal for a new Lincoln Center.

I volunteer at Phoenix Academy and wanted to voice my support for the renovation of the new preschool and expanded Phoenix campus at the historic Lincoln campus.

One council-member objected that placing the preschool there amounted to “re-segregation.”

The history of this campus — and of Duke’s campus, and that of buildings and monuments across North Carolina — is irrevocably intertwined with a history of racial injustice that has yet to be fully confronted in this state.

I’m certainly not a person well-equipped to speak to these injustices.

It is not my expertise nor do I have a single moment of lived experience of the subject.

But I may as well speak, if imperfectly, on a subject where failing to speak is the most dangerous thing we can do.

As some of us seniors graduate, we all have a responsibility to shape the histories we tell about our campus.

We should all aim to get these histories right.

Thanks for reading.

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