She sees his name almost every day.
As a geography major, junior Omololu Babatunde spends much of her time in Saunders Hall.
“It’s kind of an awe-inspiring feeling,” she said. “Here’s a man who was a KKK leader — and now me, a black female, is going into this building to better myself and to get an education that he wouldn’t even believe me able to have or possess.”
In addition to being a compiler of historical documents, the late William L. Saunders, for whom the hall is named, was the chief organizer of North Carolina’s Ku Klux Klan.
“I’m not so much angry about the man and his hatred more so that I’m angry at the University for not saying anything about that,” Babatunde said.
Saunders isn’t the only one.
Daniels Student Stores, Aycock Residence Hall, Hamilton Hall and Spencer Residence Hall join Saunders on a list of buildings on campus named after active white supremacists.
“This is supposed to be a university of the people — you’re ignoring your history,” said Laura Barrios, a member of the Real Silent Sam Committee, a group dedicated to educating people on UNC’s racial history, focused on McCorkle Place’s Silent Sam Civil War memorial.
“There are so many other people to name buildings after, including African-Americans. They are truly the unsung founders, and I think it’s not fair.”
Barrios, along with fellow student Bill Pappas, created a documentary about institutional racism at UNC. The issue received additional attention last month when Duke University’s student government passed a unanimous resolution in support of renaming its own Aycock Residence Hall, named after N.C. Gov. Charles Aycock.
Duke students hope to instead name the building after Julian Abele, the black architect who designed Duke’s West Campus.
Aycock was a champion of public education, building about 600 schools for white students — but only 90 for black students.
“Even in his most progressive part of his track record, he’s sort of entrenching white supremacy for generations to come,” said Prashanth Kamalakanthan, a Duke student involved with the proposal. “(Students) need to be at the forefront of defining what social relations we think are acceptable and just.”
He also said change could be more difficult at UNC because, unlike at Duke, Aycock has institutional connections — he was an alumnus. Activists, Pappas said, have been struggling to get a response from the administration for years.
“It’s like it’s lost in translation on purpose,” Pappas said.
Despite past struggles, many hope Duke’s resolution will lead to discussion.
“The fact that a building at (UNC) is named after a man that led one of the only successful coup d’etats in American history in favor of white supremacy is a bit outlandish,” said sophomore Kelly Swanson, an Aycock resident.
“I’m sure there are others that have made an impact on UNC and public schools in general that have a better mindset towards diversity.”
Naming buildings ultimately rests with the UNC Board of Trustees, the chancellor and the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Naming University Facilities and Units. While Chancellor Carol Folt had no comment, Professor Emeritus John Sanders, a former committee member, said building names are usually recommended by the sponsoring or occupying department.
“I don’t recall a name being changed because it was no longer fashionable or acceptable,” he said.
According to the Chancellor’s Policy on Naming University Facilities and Units, “in the case of historical persons or entities, it is constructive also to view the proposed naming by contemporary standards to ensure that the naming is appropriate.”
The policy also states private financial support usually generates a naming honor. Junior Blanche Brown, a member of the Real Silent Sam, said she sees a connection between this and white supremacy.
“(UNC) was for young white men to come and learn in the South who generally came from slave-owning families that continually made fortunes and thus today have that power,” she said.
“We don’t represent the faces of private groups of families — we represent the general body of North Carolina and that is a diverse population. Our education system shouldn’t be beholden to oppressive practices for monetary reasons.”
The Real Silent Sam isn’t the only group focusing on UNC’s racial history. Years ago, the Center for the Study of the American South created a virtual museum of UNC’s history, including its racial elements. A link to the museum used to be displayed on UNC’s homepage, but has since been removed after website renovations.
“I tried as hard as I could at the time and didn’t succeed and have decided to move on,” said professor Harry Watson, who helped create the museum.
“I’m virtually certain that the answer would be to think about what we can do to make the University of North Carolina an inclusive place for everybody starting today and looking forward. I believe in exposing the past, but I’ve decided to pick different battles.”
While there are other battles to fight, Barrios said UNC needs to be more transparent on these lingering racial issues.
“It’s starting a conversation. It’s not erasing history,” she said.
Babatunde said she simply wants her whole history to be told.
“I have pride in UNC, and I have love for UNC, but I want my institution to represent me and people like me — not just people like me in the present, but in the past as well,” she said.
“I don’t think that anyone would want a university that doesn’t give the full story.”
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