On May 28, 2015, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Trustees (BOT) voted in favor of creating a team of scholars to curate a history of William Saunders and the building formerly known as Saunders Hall. Chancellor Carol Folt commissioned The Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History to create an exhibit inside of Hurston Hall — what you may know now as Carolina Hall.
On Friday, Nov. 11, the Task Force unveiled the long-awaited results of its research, in fulfillment of a BOT resolution. The display, set within the lobby of Hurston Hall, includes a history of William Saunders, the naming of the building, and the violent takedown of Reconstruction in North Carolina, followed by a brief acknowledgement of the student activism that led to the building’s renaming.
During the unveiling, a co-president of the Graduate Association for Geography Students challenged key omissions in the University’s “official” narrative on display. Most notably, it did not include the BOT’s 16-year moratorium on changing the names of further buildings. When Dr. James Leloudis, the Task Force’s lead researcher, was told the omission of the 16-year moratorium was unacceptable, his response was, “the moratorium is irrelevant.” Apparently, what is important is that the building’s name was changed.
What Dr. Leloudis fails to see is that the imposition of a moratorium in the face of an inevitable victory by students mobilizing for reparation and racial justice is a tactic by which white supremacy is re-inscribed and student movements are neutralized, now and in the future. “Don’t stop fighting,” he said. As if our co-president’s existence on campus as a Black woman is not fraught with tension.
This comment exhibits an ignorance illustrated by the display; the opinions of students who dissent have little to no academic import. “Don’t stop fighting” is the equivalent of the BOT repeatedly lauding the Real Silent Sam Coalition’s “passion” as they were presented scores of evidence — archival and experiential — of William Saunders’ white supremacist past, the sociopolitical period in which the building was named in his honor and the assaults truth-seekers received from fellow students via anonymous websites like YikYak.