Students rally to rename UNC building named for KKK organizer

Posted January 30, 2015

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— 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.


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  • Hondo Jan 30, 2015

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    Well, they all need to vote on this. A petition just isn't going to cut it.

  • Hondo Jan 30, 2015

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    So why did they wear masks while doing it? Did they have a superman fetish, or where they actually breaking laws in a post reconstruction period?

  • PJM Jan 30, 2015

    ehhhh not sure if they need to consider this change....may reconsider it. The world needs to recognize positive leaders

  • Carrboro Jan 30, 2015

    We could give all the buildings liberal names like : The Birkenstock Building. Structures like the Bell Tower: Intolerant Tower, The Student Center, Cry Baby Corner, Streets like Protest Place , Whining Way or Liberal Lane.

  • Hondo Jan 30, 2015

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    This has nothing to do with the Civil War.

  • Hondo Jan 30, 2015

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    Mon, someone pointed out earlier that we need to take Thomas Jefferson off of Mt Rushmore because he was a slave owner. My point, owning a slave back then was legal. Raping, murdering, and spreading so much fear in the rural communities that black people moved to cities in droves is not illegal. You see, being a founding father of the KKK is no where near the same as being a legal slave owner.

  • Brandon White Jan 30, 2015
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    200 out of 29000 students - 99.4% of the rest of the students are in class and are being responsible, and do not care. Seems 200 students did not get enough attention from mommy when growing up.

  • Tim Pearce Jan 30, 2015
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    The Klan used to go after any one who was being a bad human . Especially in cases of low life fathers, drunkards and thieves. A little Righteous Vigilantism would be welcome to me in this environment now.

  • MaxD Jan 30, 2015

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    Sorry for unsulting everyone over at UNC (I know they arn't all that dumb) but sometimes it just makes me mad when I hear about stuff like this. I mean why don't they just march into downtown raleigh and demand we remove the Civil War monument while they are at it. You can't make everyone happy. That is just life. Some people just need to suck it up and move on with their life.

  • tran Jan 30, 2015

    It is curious that the students are motivated to rally for a building to be renamed. Why don't they rally for lower tuition or rally for student debt jubilee? Those causes would make a much bigger difference to them.