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Wednesday October 20th

History on hold: University pauses the History Task Force work including Silent Sam

<p>A permanent exhibit in the entrance of Carolina Hall detailing the building's history. The hall was originally named for William Saunders, former leader of the N.C. Klan and UNC Trustee.</p>
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A permanent exhibit in the entrance of Carolina Hall detailing the building's history. The hall was originally named for William Saunders, former leader of the N.C. Klan and UNC Trustee.

Four years ago it wasn’t Silent Sam in protestors’ crosshairs, it was Saunders Hall. 

In May 2015, after many conversations with UNC students and stakeholders, as well as outside experts, the Board of Trustees voted to change the name of Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall. Saunders Hall was named for William Saunders, a UNC trustee and head of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina.

Following up on the decision, former Chancellor Carol Folt appointed a task force charged with “curating and teaching a full and accurate history of UNC-Chapel Hill.” 

The Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History then set out on a number of projects. It developed a strategy to contextualize McCorkle Place. It opened a permanent exhibit inside Carolina Hall to teach about the University and building's complicated history. It worked on a plan to enhance the Unsung Founders memorial. 

Now it’s been put on pause.

Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said the task force is currently inactive as he game-plans its future. 

"We’ve already had a few meetings regarding this and I’m preparing to make an announcement in probably August, September," Guskiewicz said, "where we will bring some version of that committee back in maybe a commission looking at our history." 

“The work of the task force is on hold for the moment,” said James Leloudis, task force co-chair, “and plans for the future are not yet set.”

The task force inventoried building names and named spaces across campus to help centralize and explain UNC’s full history, although renaming a campus structure would be impossible due to the 16 year freeze on renaming buildings, which the BOT instituted at the same time it renamed Saunders Hall. 

Professor William Sturkey in the history department, a critic of UNC’s efforts to explain its past, is skeptical that the task force was allowed to work freely. 

“It’s my understanding that the types of communication they could send out as well as the messages were always very much restricted from the top on down by the previous administration,” he said. 

Sturkey thinks the University is falling behind compared to its peer institutions in the arena of self-study.

“Based on what other universities are doing in terms of studying their histories, there is no reason for any institution in the world to look at UNC as a global leader in these new movements to study and disseminate the history of race in the American south,” he said. 

In past presentations to the Board of Trustees, the task force announced that it had designed contextualization plans for McCorkle place, including entrance markers in the area, educational markers at the site of the monument, and digital content that would tell an expanded story. 

It’s unclear how the removal of the pedestal, ordered by former Chancellor Folt, will impact the implementation of these proposed efforts. 

"Places like the University of Virginia, William and Mary and even Ole Miss to a certain extent, are far beyond us in studying their history in a responsible way that benefits students and the public," Sturkey said. 

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