In July 2020, the chairpersons of the history, sociology, political science and peace, war and defense departments all signed a letter to the Chancellor requesting that Hamilton Hall be renamed after Pauli Murray.
The department leaders decided to symbolically rename the current Hamilton building after Murray, and recommended that the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward work to make the change official.
Now, over a year later, the renaming process is still incomplete.
Murray, the proposed namesake, applied to the UNC doctoral program in sociology in 1938, but was denied admission because they were Black. Murray went on to be a celebrated scholar, orator, author, historian, attorney, priest and activist.
According to the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, “Murray’s legal arguments and interpretation of the U.S. Constitution were winning strategies for public school desegregation, women’s rights in the workplace, and an extension of rights to LGBTQ+ people ... "
A statement from the department chairpersons who recommended Murray’s name said Murray represents an immutable spirit of scholarship and public service.
"... (Murray) made major contributions to our society in the face of nearly insurmountable resistance,” the letter said.
Following the renaming recommendation, the Commission on History, Race and Way Forward recommended Hamilton Hall for renaming to an ad hoc committee.
That ad hoc committee is now in the process of making a recommendation to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz on the renaming of any buildings that have been recommended by resolution to be renamed, according to UNC Media Relations.
Former history professor Joseph Hamilton, Hamilton Hall's current namesake and founder of the Southern Historical Collection at UNC, promoted white supremacy in his teaching and materials. His writing centered whiteness in historical accounts and supported the Lost Cause mythos of the Civil War.
William Sturkey, an associate professor in the Department of American Studies, said Hamilton studied history with a closed mind, and that many things he published have since been refuted.
“Hamilton’s process of collecting history was in and of itself erasing history by making very selective choices about the type of history that he published or the type of history that he didn’t publish,” Sturkey said.
He also said naming Hamilton Hall after Murray is a good choice for the University — and that honoring Murray would be a major step forward.
“A lot of Pauli Murray scholarship has withstood the test of time and even really served as the early formation of major concepts important in academia today,” Sturkey said. “Intersectionality is just one of those concepts that Pauli Murray was a real pioneer in terms of advocating for, but without using that specific language.”
Alfred Hamilton III, great-grandson of Hamilton, said he has been impressed by the care and thoroughness of the UNC building renaming process.
“I’ve been nothing but impressed by the people that I’ve interacted with,” Hamilton said. “And the fairness and the respect and sort of the shared love of Carolina that they have.”
Hamilton said he hopes the UNC community sees how in-depth, transparent and fair the renaming process has been.
“If they do this, then I hope it’s a step forward in healing,” Hamilton said. “It’s a step forward in being representative of everyone in the state and graduates and students and all that kind of stuff, and that we push forward as the University of the people.”
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