Students rally to rename UNC building named for KKK organizer
Posted January 30, 2015
Chapel Hill, N.C. — More than 200 students rallied Friday afternoon on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to raise awareness of what some call a slap in the face to minorities – an academic hall named after a founder of the Ku Klux Klan in the Tar Heel State.
At the center of the #KickOutTheKKK movement is Saunders Hall, the namesake of William Lawrence Saunders, an 1854 graduate who served as a colonel in the Civil War and eventually went on to become North Carolina's secretary of state.
In 1922, UNC named the building, which originally housed the history department, for Saunders because he was instrumental in getting the state's colonial records published.
"I think that he represents a dark history, and it embodies everyone here, and it follows me," student Tra Nguyn said. "It's not just about blacks. It's about colored life."
For the past year, students have been petitioning UNC's Board of Trustees to rename the building in honor of African-American author Zora Neale Hurston, who secretly took classes at the university prior to integration.
"What is being represented – this legacy of the KKK – creates this atmosphere of distrust of the university," Ashley Winkfield, a member of the Real Silent Sam Coalition, which organized Friday's rally. "So, I think having a different name for that building is something that will help ease a lot of racial tensions here."
Saunders Hall isn't the only building on the historic campus, chartered in 1789, that has been mired in racial controversy. The names of several other buildings have links to white supremacy.
Student Tasia Harris said it is evident of a struggle beyond Saunders Hall.
"It's hard to be a student here when everything around you is telling you that you don't belong here," she said.
Messages to university officials Friday were not immediately returned, but UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement Wednesday that the Board of Trustees is "taking a close look" at the matter in line with UNC's naming policy.
"A part of Carolina's history is inextricably linked with difficult issues of race and class, and how we address those issues today is important," Folt said.
The policy allows for a name change where a name "may compromise the public trust, dishonor the university's standards or otherwise be contrary to the best interests of the university."
The site of Friday's rally is the source of another grievance of the Real Silent Sam Coalition.
"Silent Sam" is a monument, erected in 1913, that the university says honors the memory of students who served and died in the Civil War.
The statue depicts a Confederate soldier facing north while holding a rifle in his hands. Of significance is that he lacks a cartridge box for ammunition.
But the coalition says "the monument is falsely represented" as honoring students and that it was erected "at the height of North Carolina’s white supremacy movement to incite fear in the newly freed black population."
It wants a plaque on the statue that contextualizes its history.