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Organizers hope to memorialize Wilson Caldwell in event

The UNC NAACP hosts a candlelight vigil for Wilson Caldwell, who was born a slave in the household of UNC's second president, David Swain.

Education and awareness — that's what co-organizers Anna Blackwell and Kristen Marion want students to take away from the Wilson Caldwell Day event.

To celebrate Caldwell, who was born a slave in the household of UNC's second president, David Swain, UNC NAACP co-president Destinee Grove took attendees on a historical tour of UNC’s campus on Monday. The tour started at Horton Residence Hall — named after George Moses Horton, a slave and famous poet who often recited poetry on campus — and it finished at Wilson Caldwell’s grave. 

After the tour, a discussion was led by Marion about the importance of Wilson Caldwell Day.

“The main point of Wilson Caldwell Day is to recognize the labor of black slaves and other black workers that really built this campus, and the ways that the University really benefited from black people either in bondage or on their own merit and to uplift those stories that we don’t focus on very often,” senior Elizabeth Brown said.

Blackwell said she took HIST 398: Slavery, Race and Memory at UNC in the fall 2016 semester and in this class, she said they researched Wilson Caldwell, his contributions to the University and UNC’s racial history as a whole. 

“When I took this class, I had no idea the role the University played in the slave trade,” Blackwell said. “Trustees would buy slaves, sell the slaves and then give this money to the school. We are not taught this.”

This was also surprising to Marion, the political action committee coordinator of the UNC NAACP. 

“If you think about UNC today, you’re not necessarily going to associate the great Tar Heel school with this type of stuff,” Marion said. “We’re specifically known as a pretty liberal institution, so it is shocking that there is documentation out there of people from this University publicly supporting slavery.”

In creating Wilson Caldwell Day, Blackwell said there is hope of sparking conversations around campus and making people aware of the history of slavery on this campus.

“Wilson Caldwell strikes me as a person who was very disciplined in an environment that definitely was not set up for him to succeed the way he succeeded,” Marion said. “He considered himself a literate man and an educated man. That is what needs to be perpetuated.” 

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