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Saturday June 25th

Chancellor's committee considers removal of Pettigrew and Ruffin Jr. building names

The chancellor's committee met via Zoom on Monday, June 20, 2022.
Buy Photos The chancellor's committee met via Zoom on Monday, June 20, 2022.

In its meeting on Monday, the Chancellor's Committee to Review Resolution from Commission on History and Race discussed the removal of the names Pettigrew Hall and Thomas Ruffin, Jr. Residence Hall from campus buildings.

Committee Chairperson and School of Government Dean Mike Smith opened the meeting and noted the importance of holding the meeting on the federal holiday that recognizes Juneteenth. 

"It seems like a somehow important, not only a thing to take notice of, but also an appropriate time in some ways to be thinking about these challenging issues which we continue to struggle with," Smith said. 

This meeting was part of the committee's discussion of its draft proposal, which will make 10 University building name removal recommendations to the chancellor.

What's new?

  • The committee discussed the removal of the name James Johnston Pettigrew from Pettigrew Hall. 
  • Pettigrew was a general in the Confederate army who economically benefitted from the labor of enslaved Black people. 
    • "Pettigrew was a little different in the sense that the dossier did not claim that he enslaved other people at all," Smith said. "It was his family, and he received money from a brother and that money came from the sale of enslaved people."
    • However, Smith explained that there was no question that Pettigrew was a strong supporter of the institution of slavery.
    • Smith said the committee is not solely relying on whether or not the building namesakes were enslavers, but that it is a negative factor.
    • "That is not the basis for our removal recommendation," committee member and Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law Mary-Rose Papandrea said. "There are other things, much stronger reasons in this, in our draft."
  • All committee members voted to recommend the removal of Pettigrew's name from Pettigrew Residence Hall. 
  • The committee then discussed the removal of the name Thomas Ruffin Jr. from Thomas Ruffin, Jr. Residence Hall. 
    • In July 2020, the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward recommended that Thomas Ruffin and his son Thomas Ruffin Jr.'s names be removed from Ruffin Residence Hall.
    • In July, the Board of Trustees removed Thomas Ruffin's name, but not Ruffin Jr.'s.
    • "I looked at the original dossier that went to the trustees a couple of years ago to remove both names, and my recollection is that there was almost nothing in there about Ruffin Jr.," Smith said. 
    • Smith said Ruffin Jr. helped to orchestrate a letter-writing campaign to support legislation that would allow amnesty for members of the Ku Klux Klan who committed murder. 
    • "We don't know if he's lobbying on behalf of clients, or on behalf of people he knows, or friends," UNC Trustee Ralph W. Meekins Sr. said."And so because of that, I don't assume anything, and I think if this is it, if this is the main reason that you would take his name down, I think it would go into the weaker category as far as the evidence."
    • Papandrea said if there is no way to find out if Ruffin Jr. was representing clients, she would still rely on his actions making the University an inhospitable learning environment. 
    • Committee member Elliana Alexander said she has talked to students who live in this residential community who have said the building name Ruffin actively hurts them. 
    • "They feel like the removing of the name senior and not junior is really just kind of like a fluke in a way," Alexander said. "And they see the keeping of this name really as UNC as a whole being unwilling to part with the past to the point of actively hurting students today."
    • The committee decided to try to get more information about Ruffin Jr. and vote on its recommendation for removal at the next meeting. 
    • Smith said tentatively, he is leaning toward a recommendation that says to retain the building name, but to add another name. 
  • "We're trying to make good decisions, we're trying to rectify and reckon with our past at Chapel Hill, and we need to," Meekins said. "And like I said before, I want to do it now, and not leave it to future generations if we can, as best we can."
    • Papandrea said the committee has been adhering very closely to the guidelines and being very thoughtful in its recommendations.
    • "It's just the reality that we are dealing with the unfortunate history of the south and of the people that have been honored on many of the buildings on this campus," Papandrea said.

What’s next? 

  • Smith said the committee will try to schedule another meeting within the next few weeks.
  • At that meeting, it will finish its discussion of Ruffin Jr., Residence Hall and begin discussing its recommendation for the removal of Battle Hall. 

@madikirk31

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