Education, Higher Ed, race, What's Race Got To Do With It?

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hamilton Hall may soon become Pauli Murray Hall

Weeks after UNC-Chapel Hill lifted its moratorium on the re-naming of buildings, Hamilton Hall may soon become Pauli Murray Hall.

This week the chairs of the school’s departments of History, Political Science, Sociology and the Peace, War and Defense Curriculum requested the change though the newly established Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward.

Photo courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill Department of History

The building now known as Hamilton Hall is named for Joseph Grégoire de Roulhac Hamilton, a professor whose writings on the Civil War and reconstruction were nakedly white supremacist.

A passage from his 1914 book Reconstruction in North Carolina praises the Ku Klux Klan’s role in restoring government to the white race:

Called into existence by this state of affairs, the Ku Klux lifted the South from its slough of despond by the application of illegal force which overthrew Reconstruction and ultimately restored political power to the white race . . . Heart had been put into the despairing whites and a revolution had been wrought through its operations, or, to be more exact, the results of a revolution had been overthrown and a form of government, wickedly, illegally, and unconstitutionally imposed upon the people, had come into the hands of the class best fitted to administer government, and the supremacy of the white race and of Anglo-Saxon institutions was secure.”

Pauli Murray was a black descendent of one of the original UNC-Chapel Hill trustees, James Strudwick Smith. Denied admission to the school’s Ph.D program in sociology because of her race, she none-the-less went on to become an outspoken attorney, activist and scholar. She was also the first Black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Pauli Murray, courtesy of The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe, Harvard University

“Our motivation for renaming the building is rooted in the history of our University and Professor Hamilton’s role in shaping it for the benefit of white supremacy,” the department heads wrote in a press release Friday. “Ample evidence of this history can be found in the brief submitted to us by our building-wide committee tasked with evaluating this decision.”

“Pauli Murray represents the immutable spirit of scholarship and public service, and she represents the forgone knowledge that UNC could have been a part of, could have supported and nurtured, and could have learned from,” the department heads wrote. “Naming our building after her will serve as a reminder of what was lost, what could have been, and what can be as we move forward.”

2 Comments


  1. James Hamilton, M.D.

    July 11, 2020 at 1:15 am

    Why not just name Hamilton Hall after Alexander Hamilton, a much more important and prominent American abolutionist figure than Pauli Murray? Or, are memorials to be named only on the basis of race and/or gender? — Isn’t this discrminatory?

    I’m wondering what our racially hypersensitized society will do when all the “offensive” statues are destroyed and all our buildings are re-named? When everyone comes to the realization that all this destruction, hatred & attacks on whites hasn’t made a bit of difference in the fundamental differences between the races, what happens next? I believe that the faculty of our schools & universities should be more concerned with teaching their students that sometimes the alleged oppression, discrimination and hatred of inert buildings and 100-year old statues might be a projection of our own behavior— Isn’t the attempt to erase our Southern heritage and culture itself a reflection of a lack of inclusiveness, tolerance and diversity?

  2. Nat

    July 18, 2020 at 1:05 am

    @James Hamilton recommended reading: Song in a Weary Throat
    Murray was an author, priest, lawyer, and an absolutely influential civil rights figure.

    Also, Pauli Murray lived in NC and went to UNC-Chapel Hill. A. Hamilton went to King’s College (now Columbia).

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