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Wednesday March 22nd

Pauli Murray Hall: UNC departments begin process of renaming Hamilton Hall

<p>A temporary banner hangs reading “Pauli Murray Hall” on the building originally named Hamilton Hall on Monday, July 13, 2020. Photo courtesy of Lisa Lindsay.</p>
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A temporary banner hangs reading “Pauli Murray Hall” on the building originally named Hamilton Hall on Monday, July 13, 2020. Photo courtesy of Lisa Lindsay.

CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to clarify the steps necessary for an official name change of Hamilton Hall.

Hamilton Hall is now Pauli Murray Hall, according to leaders of multiple departments housed in the building. UNC’s history, political science and sociology departments, along with peace, war and defense curriculum leaders announced their decision to symbolically rename the building Thursday, and recommend that the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward work to make the change official.

The decision comes just over three weeks after the UNC Board of Trustees lifted the 2015 moratorium that would have prevented renaming structures and buildings on campus until 2031.

Lisa Lindsay, chairperson of the history department, said the new name is currently unofficial as it awaits action to be taken by the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward, but it is backed with support from all departments housed in the building. If the Commission approves, the recommendation will be sent to the Board of Trustees, which will make the final decision on renaming the building.

“We hope to work with the Commission as it considers this and other building names,” Lindsay said. “While it deliberates, many who use the building intend to begin using the name Pauli Murray Hall among ourselves, because it better reflects our values than the current name, which many find offensive. “

Officially renaming the building after Pauli Murray would remove the name of former history professor Joseph Hamilton from the building. Hamilton, who founded the Southern Historical Collection, promoted white supremacist views in his published materials and teaching. In Hamilton's dissertation, “Reconstruction in North Carolina,” he praised the Ku Klux Klan for restoring political power to the white race.

According to the UNC departments' statement, the new building name honors Pauli Murray, a Black descendant of the University's original trustees. She was a prominent advocate for women’s and civil rights, and carried multiple roles throughout her life, including as an attorney and priest. 

Murray, who was denied admission in 1938 to UNC's sociology Ph.D. program because of her race, made significant contributions to multiple scholarly disciplines, the departments' statement said. 

“The name of our building matters,” Mark Crescenzi, chairperson of the political science department, said in an email statement. “It signals our commitment to those who enter that they can engage in these problems with us, joining us in our search for answers and understanding.”

History graduate students created a petition to department leadership, which included a demand for them to "call for and take action to rename buildings on campus that are named after racists, Confederates, and/or White supremacists," Lindsay said.

“I had no idea that our petition was even considered as a push for the name change,” Benjamin Fortun, a history graduate student, said. “It was one of our demands, but we were never notified about it.” 

Lindsay said leaders saw the petition as an affirmation that a change needed to be made. 

“Many faculty, staff, and students were already dissatisfied with the name on our building before it showed up on the history grad student petition,” Lindsay said in an email statement. “But it certainly confirmed our sense of the urgency of the matter for it to be so prominently included.”

While Lindsay said there is more work to be done, she also said renaming the building is a step in the right direction. 

“Our departments, our university and indeed the entire United States are reckoning with the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and white supremacy — tragic legacies that continue to significantly affect people's lives, particularly Black lives and those of people of color,” Lindsay wrote. “There is much work to do to build a more perfect union and a more perfect university, and I applaud the efforts that many on this campus have undertaken and will continue to do.”

She said a committee of faculty members and graduate students from the three departments and the chairperson of the curriculum in peace, war and defense considered the name of the building, and put out a recommendation that was developed in partnership with input from faculty, students and staff. 

Lindsay said the recommendation was also influenced by the Black Faculty, Faculty of Color and Indigenous Faculty Roadmap for Racial Equity. Members of the Hamilton and Murray families were contacted to ensure they were supportive of the change, Lindsay said, and on July 9, the recommendation to change the name was "approved overwhelmingly" by all the departments involved.

Students echoed faculty support for the new Pauli Murray Hall, and the significance behind the name. 

“When I saw the new name, I was instantly like, 'Okay, that’s pretty big,' considering how many buildings on campus are named after one: men, two: white men and three: racist white men," Clay Morris, a journalism and political science major, said. “This is a complete 180 from the typical building name on campus, and it’s going to stand for something completely different.” 

History major Grace Taylor said there is no reason to honor someone who sympathized with white supremacists when there are many historical figures in North Carolina with better legacies.

“I think it’s sending the message that even racism that was perpetuated at this school 70 years ago is still unacceptable,” Taylor said. 

As the UNC community continues to address the University's history of racism, Lindsay said changing symbols on campus is an important part of this effort. 

“In some ways, it is merely symbolic: it doesn't address important questions of resource allocation or structural power,” Lindsay said. “But symbols are important statements of who we are, what we value, and how we relate to each other.”


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