This week students and community activists at UNC-Chapel Hill celebrated the first anniversary of the toppling of the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam.”
But students took the opportunity to expand on anti-racist efforts at UNC-Chapel Hill beyond the controversial statue — and the racial history of UNC that makes those efforts necessary.
Danielle Dulken, a PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill, has made her full speech from the campus tour available online. It systematically lays out the history of honoring white supremacists and slave owners on campus through the naming of campus buildings and landmarks while prominent UNC personalities of the same era who were abolitionists are all but ignored.
Dulken credits extensive UNC student history research for the public history site Names in Brick and Stone , University Libraries and The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History for making her part of the tour possible.
Her speech was accompanied by students holding 28 placards with the names of slave owners and avowed white supremacists whose names adorn buildings and landmarks on the Chapel Hill campus.
From the piece:
Silent Sam is Down. Thanks to a long-fought and hard-won battle — led by Black and Brown and queer students — against white supremacy at the historically white university, UNC-Chapel Hill.
As we look back into the past, remember: UNC-Chapel Hill, the first public university in the nation, opened its doors to white, male students in 1795. Black people were enslaved here, worked here, but were not allowed to study here until 1955, 160 years later. Tonight we are gathered to fight back against more than a century of racist hatred at UNC.
We know from the violent Confederate honorific, Silent Sam, that built environment matters. That the landscape surrounding us is pervasive.
We know that memorials to white supremacy imagined as statues — or engraved namesakes carved into campus buildings — bleed into our campus administration, our departments, our classrooms, our curriculums, our interpersonal experiences. These memorials to white supremacy remind us who is welcome here and who is not.
We know that when white supremacy is carved into the very places we live and we work and we study that Black and Brown people are unsafe.
The built environment is powerful. We know that because we breathe easier since Silent Sam’s fall.
Before going deep into examples across campus, Dulken tells the story of the former Saunders Hall, named for UNC trustee and Ku Klux Klan leader William Saunders. Rejecting calls to rename the hall for black author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, the university instead rechristened it “Carolina Hall” in 2015. The university trustees then imposed a 16 year moratorium on renaming buildings.
Many students on campus still insist on calling the building Hurston Hall.
The moratorium, which still stands, has put UNC-Chapel Hill behind a number of other universities in addressing its racial history, Dulken said. It means that while East Carolina University and UNC-Greensboro have removed North Carolina governor Charles B. Aycock’s name from buildings on their campus in view of his leadership of a turn-of-the-century white supremacy movement, UNC-Chapel Hill has not.
Read the whole thing here.