Evely Forte: I’m Evely Forte from The Daily Tar Heel and this is Heel Talk.
Hey everyone, welcome back to Heel Talk. On July 10, the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward unanimously approved a recommendation to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz for the removal of names with ties to white supremacy of four on-campus buildings at their meeting Friday. I spoke to my colleague, Summer University Desk Editor Maydha Devarajan, to understand which buildings’ names might be removed from campus and why the commission submitted that recommendation to the chancellor.
First, Maydha, could you start us off by explaining what exactly the recommendation submitted by the commission even is?
Maydha Devarajan: Yeah, the resolution that the commission passed was a recommendation to the chancellor that the names of Charles B. Aycock, Josephus Daniels, Julian S. Carr, Thomas Ruffin and Thomas Ruffin Jr. be removed, respectively, from Aycock Residence Hall, the Josephus Daniels building, which is the Student Stores building, Carr Building and Ruffin Residence Hall.
The commission’s resolution really emphasized that these are men who used their positions of power and wealth to disenfranchise Black voters, instigate violence and murder towards Black people, dismantle Fusion political parties, institutionalize Jim Crow, among other acts of white supremacy. Co-chairperson Jim Leloudis introduced the resolution at the meeting on Friday.
EF: Based on your reporting, what exactly did the commission find concerning about each of these names?
MD: Yeah, so this is by no means exhaustive. I would definitely encourage people to look through the resolution in the show notes below and also to do their own independent research.
But, Charles Aycock was extremely influential in state politics. The resolution notes that he led the Democratic Party’s white supremacy campaign in 1898. He and other Democratic Party leaders also urged loyal Democrats to terrorize Black voters and their white allies through terrorist vigilante groups known as the Red Shirts, and the worst of these incidents occurred in the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, during which a white mob murdered at least 60 Black people, destroyed Black businesses and carried out a violent coup d’etat of the local Fusion government. Aycock was also the governor of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905, and he’d campaigned on the promise to impose literary tests in elections. Leloudis touched on Aycock’s role in institutionalizing Jim Crow during the meeting.
Josephus Daniels was a long-time editor and owner of the News & Observer. During his time at the paper, he was able to position it as one of the most influential in North Carolina, largely through serving as a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party and white supremacy campaigns. According to the commission’s resolution, he filled the newspaper day after day with white supremacist propaganda that demonized Black people and sent white Democrats into fearsome mobs, like the one that terrorized and killed dozens of people in the Wilmington Massacre. Daniels also promoted Jim Crow segregation as secretary of the Navy for President Woodrow Wilson during the U.S. occupation of Haiti.
Julian Carr had studied at UNC in the 1860s, and he left in between to serve in the Confederate army. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees from 1877 to 1924. The resolution notes that he was a major financier of the 1898 and 1900 white supremacy campaigns in North Carolina. He was one of the richest men in the state. He was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He’s also known for having recounted whipping a Black woman close to the University at Silent Sam’s dedication. Leloudis had said during the meeting that he was a prominent figure involved in the memorialization of Confederate veterans across the state.
And, Ruffin Residence Hall is actually named for Thomas Ruffin and Thomas Ruffin Jr. The older Thomas Ruffin was a trustee from 1813 to 1870, and he practiced law in Orange County and was a chief justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court for many years in the mid-19th century. He was also one of the largest slaveholders in the state, and he profited significantly from the domestic slave trade, and as a jurist, encouraged the breaking up of families of enslaved individuals. The resolution notes that Thomas Ruffin Jr. was also a lawyer and a Confederate veteran. He served one term in the legislature, but the resolution says he left no distinctive mark on jurisprudence.
EF: And so, do you have an understanding, Maydha, as to what the motivation of the commission was in submitting this recommendation in the first place?
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MD: Co-chair Parker said that the commission had been receiving a lot of requests regarding names on campus. At the Board of Trustees' June meeting, they lifted the 16-year ban on renaming buildings and structures on campus. At that meeting, the Chancellor stated the commission is going to provide recommendations back to him and the board moving forward. So, I think that these conversations are really capitalizing on the momentum that was built from that meeting. A few members at the meeting really emphasized that it’s important to remember that these were not men of their times, which I think is often a common, sort of, explanation to excuse their racism and white supremacy.
Sherick Hughes, a commission member and professor in the School of Education, touched on this at the meeting.
EF: So, my understanding, based on our conversation today Maydha, is that this proposal is just that — a proposed recommendation to the chancellor. So, what happens now?
MD: This is a really important question that commission members touched on, sort of, like, what are these next steps going to be.
At the commission’s meeting last Friday, Leloudis said the next steps are that recommendation would go to the chancellor, who he believes will pass it on to the Board of Trustees, and they have the final ability to make name changes, as we saw with Saunders Hall, which was named for Ku Klux Klan leader and Board of Trustees member William Saunders, and became Carolina Hall in 2015.
So, going forward, part of ... the Commission on Race, History and a Way Forward, part of their action plan is going to include conducting an exhaustive program of research, they said, to produce a full account of the more than three dozen campus buildings and public spaces that are named for white supremacists or men who expropriated native peoples’ land, among a number of other actions. The action plan also includes memorializing the names of enslaved people who built UNC, researching the histories of two UNC-owned cemeteries, where enslaved people are buried, and to consider installing public exhibits to honor their memory. Commission members also noted that it’s important to uplift the research already done by generations of activists and scholars regarding these histories of buildings. The commission had also discussed adopting a truth, racial healing and transformation framework that was originally developed by the Kellogg Foundation in 2016 to address the historic and contemporary effects of racism.
It seemed to be that a really important part of the commission’s discussion going forward was also discussing whose stories would be highlighted through the commission’s education work. Larry Chavis, a commission member and director of UNC’s American Indian Center, had touched on this at the meeting. The resolution that the commission passed on Friday also notes that there are other names of structures on campus that warrant action and that the commission plans to make additional recommendations based on research and engagement with community members.
EF: Last week, several UNC departments came together to begin the process of renaming Hamilton Hall as Pauli Murray Hall. Those departments are urging the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward to make the name change official. This follows the decision the UNC Board of Trustees made to lift a 16-year moratorium that prevented renaming buildings on campus just over three weeks ago. I spoke to University desk writer Kate Carroll to better understand this symbolic name change.
Kate, could you start us off by explaining what exactly this symbolic name change entails?
Kate Carroll: Right, so as of now the new name of the former Hamilton Hall is Pauli Murray Hall, but that isn’t an official, set-in-stone type of name. This name is a strong recommendation that was put together in the form of a report from the departments of political science, history, sociology and then the peace, war and defense curriculum. So, those departments came together, their leadership came together, and they discussed this change. And now, they are pushing for an official change to be executed by the committee on Race, History and a Way Forward. Professor Lisa Lindsay, who’s the chair of the history department, said that there was a really great consensus between all of the departments in choosing to honor Pauli Murray. And, that name has already begun to be adopted and used within the building, just not officially, right?
And so, Pauli Murray was a Black descendent of the University’s original trustees, and she was also known as a prominent advocate for women’s rights and civil rights. And, she had a number of roles that she carried throughout her life, including an attorney and a priest. And, in terms of her UNC relationship, beyond just being a descendent of the original trustees, she was actually denied admission to UNC’s sociology Ph.D. program in 1938, just because of her race. So, despite that she was still able to make a number of scholarly contributions to a number of disciplines. And, all of this information was listed in a report statement that came out by the departments that decided to make this change.
EF: And so, what were some of those motivations for implementing this change and this report that you mentioned?
KC: So, there were a number of avenues that, sort of, came together in terms of motivation to ultimately push for this change. So, first, of course, is the fact that very recently, the UNC Board of Trustees lifted the 16-year moratorium on renaming buildings, and so, that would have banned a change on renaming buildings until 2031.
Second, according to chairperson Lisa Lindsay, she said that there’s been, sort of a widely expressed dissatisfaction among faculty, graduate students in the buildings and undergrads having to do with Hamilton’s legacy and the idea of having a building named after someone that sympathized with white supremacist views.
And then third, and this was something that in my reporting was actually a little surprising, is that there was a petition that was put together by a number of graduate history students, and this included, one of the demands was for department leaders to call for and take action to rename buildings on campus that are named after racists, confederates and/or white supremacists. But, what was interesting is that there actually seemed to be a, sort of, lack of communication in this area between who put together the petition — the graduate students — and the department leadership. So, when I was speaking with Professor Lindsay, she said that the petition really helped push for the change, but when I was speaking with a graduate student, that was one of the writers of the petition, Benjamin Fortun, he said that he was really surprised to hear that that petition was actually being brought up as a motivation because he said that, on their end, they hadn’t really heard anything from leaders about the name change until very last minute, when they were notified of the actual change. And, nonetheless, he said that this was a great thing and this was a good change to honor Pauli Murray.
And then, a final motivation that Lindsay brought up to me is that they were also influenced by the Black faculty, faculty of color and indigenous faculty Roadmap for Racial Equity. And so, this was a guide that was released last month that was created by those faculty members. And, it sort of gives suggestions and a guide for future decision-making and policymaking at UNC to help address and, sort of, undue the institutional racism that has been found at the University.
EF: From your reporting, Kate, do you have an understanding as to what some of the issues UNC department members have with the current Hamilton Hall name?
KC: Yeah, so some quick research into the history of it, and who professor Joseph Hamilton was, shows that as a former UNC professor, his work clearly promoted the views of white supremacists. So, in his dissertation "Reconstruction in North Carolina," he actually praised the Ku Klux Klan for restoring political power to the white race. And, this was the sort of thing that faculty members brought up to me. In talking with professor Lindsay, she made it clear that they didn’t want the building to symbolize someone who defended white supremacy. And, one thing that she mentioned that stuck with me was that we’re living in 2020, and people don’t want to work in a building that is honoring someone who stood for those things. And then, beyond that too, it’s also an issue of inclusivity and welcomeness. So, political science Chair Mark Crescenzi said that their hope with this name change is, sort of, to make the building a more comfortable and inclusive learning environment for everyone.
EF: And so, Kate, what importance are campus members identifying in this symbolic change?
KC: Yeah, so I was able to speak with a few undergrads that are in these majors that study in Hamilton Hall and, the now Pauli Murray Hall if that change goes through, and I got some positive responses from people in different majors.
So, journalism and political science major Clay Morris said that this sort of change is, sort of, a complete 180 from what it was, switching from honoring a white man who sympathized with white supremacy, to honoring a Black woman in this manner.
Clay Morris: Even if, you know, UNC as a whole isn’t actively racist, just those names being there still do impact students, so I think this thing will also do the same but in the opposite way, in the inverse. It’s going to probably inspire students.
KC: Additionally, I spoke with a history major, Grace Taylor, and she brought up the fact that she feels like changing building names is a clear choice for UNC because there’s so many people connected to this University and to the larger state of North Carolina who, you know, don’t have these racist legacies and they didn’t sympathize with white supremacists in their work, that there’s no reason to be honoring those who did.
EF: After my conversations with Maydha, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted to implement a policy for renaming buildings and public spaces on campus. I spoke to incoming Sports Editor Brian Keyes, who covered the BOT meeting, to better understand what the policy really means and how it would impact our University.
First Brian, could you explain what the renaming policy even entails?
Brian Keyes: Yeah, so the deal with the policy is that it gives the opportunity for people to submit written requests to remove a name from a building. And then, what happens after you submit that request is it goes to the chancellor, who’s Kevin Guskiewicz right now, who reviews it, who then passes it along to a committee, that will be made specifically for this purpose, that will also review it. And then, they create a report that then the chancellor reads and decides whether or not he wants to formally request to the Board of Trustees whether or not they will actually vote to remove a name.
And then, I can just go into the details of, sort of, what the policy requires for specific things. So, one, when you’re making the written request the policy requires that you have the specific conduct of the namesake that “jeopardizes the University’s integrity, missions or values” and proves the character of the named individual and the extent of the harm that the University caused by continuing to honor that person, whoever it is. And then, historical evidence that strengthens your position. So, it can’t be based on just, sort of, general hearsay. There needs to be documentation of this person, of their actions, of their views in some form or another.
And then, they actually list out principles for evaluating these requests and things that will make it stronger or weaker. And so, things that generally make it stronger, that if these people did these things, it’s more likely to be removed. “Namesake was found to have committed a major violation of a state or U.S. law.” The big line here that will cover a lot of names that will likely be removed is “the repugnant conduct in question was central to a namesake’s career, public persona or life as a whole.” So, you could see that with someone like Josephus Daniels.
Again, these allegations need to be supported by documentary evidence of some shape or form. And then, they also say “honoring the namesake jeopardizes the University’s integrity and materially impedes its mission of teaching, researching and public engagement or significantly contributes to an environment that excludes some members of the University community from opportunities to learn, thrive and succeed." You see, that language is very similar to the way student activists talked about the Silent Sam statue and advocating for that to come down, that the argument is that having these names on these buildings severely, negatively impacts students’ abilities to learn. You know, if you were a Black student at UNC who is forced to go into a building every day, whether that’s your residence hall or your, where your classes are, and it’s named after a slave owner, or one of these people who was involved in the Wilmington Massacre or whatever have it be, you know, you can’t expect students to go about their day like that. You know, that’s extremely distressing to have that constant reminder of who the University is honoring.
And then, already online you’ve seen some blowback online about things that make the positions weaker. And, the key thing in that is it says, “the namesake’s offensive viewpoints or behavior were conventional at its time, and other aspects of the namesake’s life and work are especially noteworthy to the University or the greater community." And, I suspect you’re going to see that argument used for slaveholders who, you know, they owned slaves was the primary reason to remove them. Which you see, you know, people make the argument now, all the time with people like Thomas Jefferson or George Washington of, you know, "they were men of their time.” But, again, they owned slaves. And, it makes sense that there are students, whose ancestors might have been slaves on UNC’s campus, would not want people who owned slaves to be honored in such a way. So, already, people have, sort of, been talking about issues with the policy, as soon as it's created.
EF: Did any of the BOT members explain their motivations for supporting the policy’s adoption?
BK: Yeah, so Gene Davis was the person, he’s the vice chair of the Board of Trustees, who presented the policy and, sort of led the, led it through as they were debating it. And, he read part of the preamble, which I think really gets at the gist of why they decided to do it. And, the line here that really gets at it is, he says, “In order to be a place where inclusive transformation is valued, we must be willing to submit our history and traditions to scrutiny and thoughtful assessment, consistent with the high standards and integrity of free and open inquiry and debate." They are just saying it’s time to evaluate, you know, who are the people that are honored on the buildings.
And, it’s, you know, it’s embarrassing for the University to have these names on buildings, and it's demeaning to students whose families generations before might have been affected. And, it’s really just a recognition that these things are no longer acceptable and that it’s time to change them.
EF: And so, as you’re aware, Brian, the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward unanimously approved a recommendation to Chancellor Guskiewicz to rename Daniels Building, Carr Building, Ruffin Residence Hall and Aycock Residence Halls. Does this policy facilitate that recommendation in any sort of way?
BK: Yeah so it just, it provides the actual mechanism through which to change it. And, Kevin Guskiewicz, sort of, mentioned in passing at a media availability right after the Board of Trustees meeting, that he suspects those four are going to be the first four names to change and that we could see change as soon as, he said, maybe early next week.
But, basically what needs to happen, one of the thing that I asked him about, that he was not super clear on, but I think all that would need to happen is that someone submits a written request proposal for those four, which I don’t know if the commission and their report would count as the written proposal. But, you know I suspect the report, sort of, has the historical evidence that this policy requires. So really, it’s just the policy created the way that they’re going to change it. It was, some people were sort of expecting the Board of Trustees were going to vote then and there to change those names, which is not what has happened as of today, they are all still named the same thing.
EF: And what is the immediate effect of this policy’s enactment, if anything at all?
BK: Yeah, so like I said, the immediate effect is basically nothing, in that nothing has changed the day after, everything is still named the same thing. But, what it does mean is that people, and especially the University’s historians, will now have an opportunity to start making requests for names to be removed. And, we see that in, there’s one website that has been going around online and has been cited in numerous articles, including the article I wrote about this, that was done by a former UNC history class that marks all the, all the buildings on UNC’s campus that are named for slave owners or people involved in white supremacy. And, the number is in the 20s, somewhere, I’m not exactly sure what the exact number is.
But, you know, I suspect that after those four names that the commission found, people are going to start evaluating those as well. And then, it’s going to become decisions like, you know, UNC has a lot of slave owners in its history, and Guskiewicz and the committee that’s created to evaluate these proposals is going to evaluate things that, I assume, people are going to request for a lot of those names to come down. And, they will weigh whether or not they feel the travesty of owning slaves is outweighed by whatever those people contributed to the University to get their names on the buildings in the first place.
EF: Well, thank you so much, Brian, for your time today and for sharing the insights that you gained from your reporting.
BK: Yeah of course, thank you for having me.
EF: This week’s episode of Heel Talk was co-edited and co-produced by Meredith Radford and myself.
That’s it for this week’s episode of Heel Talk. I’m Evely Forte, I’ll see you next week.
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Episode transcribed by Meredith Radford.
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