FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Why Does the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Continue to Honor the KKK?

I go to work every day at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in a building named after the founder of the North Carolina chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, William Saunders. Every day I am reminded that the university at which I have spent the past five years at one time deemed it acceptable and desirable to commemorate the legacy of Saunders and the Klan as a white supremacist establishment. The building was inaugurated in 1922, thirty-one years after Saunders death, supposedly to acknowledge the contributions that he made to compiling historical records from North Carolina’s colonial days. However, the 1920s is well-documented as a decade in which the Ku Klux Klan made a strong resurgence in the U.S., with over four million officially enlisted members. Commemorating the legacy of the founder of the KKK in North Carolina hardly seems a coincidence, given the specific historical moment. Rather, it would appear that University leaders saw the Klan as a positive force, not only during Saunders’ time, but at the moment the building was constructed, as well.

A movement has cropped up at UNC around the entrenched nature of racism on campus. A courageous group of undergraduate students known as the Real Silent Sam Coalition has pushed the administration, and their fellow classmates, to recognize what honoring Saunders means for everyone at the University. Their demand regarding the building is simple; rename Saunders Hall. This call has drawn on both personal experiences and historical studies to justify their claims. At the center of this claim is the insistence that UNC recognize the violence that acted as the foundation for the University.

Personally, I am deeply affected by the violence of this legacy on many levels. As a scholar of Black populations and geographies in the Americas, I recognize the role that the Klan has played in the marginalization, dispossession, mutilation, and murder of African-Americans in the United States. As a student of color, I recognize the harmful effects that the legacy of white supremacy has on minority students forced to live, day to day, within an institution that was born of pernicious racial domination. Perhaps most viscerally, however, as the grandson of sharecroppers from Tennessee, I recognize and abhor the terror that was and is fundamental to the Klan’s activities, and what this has meant to not only those that lost their lives to Klan activities, but to those that lived in the shadow of that potential violence.

protestsaundershall

 

Student protest outside Saunders Hall.

My grandparents picked cotton as sharecroppers outside of Memphis in the early 20th century—a time when Klan activity was prominent throughout the United States. Every time I walk through the doors to Saunders Hall, I am forced to accept the fact that the University I attend continues to honor the founder of a terrorist organization that intimidated and persecuted people like my grandparents. Just as Saunders stood for the destruction of Black lives, Saunders Hall, by honoring his memory, continues to stand for the normalizing of violence against people of color.

I, like the members of the Real Silent Sam Coalition, am not demanding that we change the name of Saunders Hall in order to forget what occurred both in North Carolina and the wider United States. Rather, I am suggesting that the University take a stand and rename the building in honor of someone that did not contribute to the reign of terror that typified post-bellum America, while acknowledging the fact that this will always remain a part of University history.

UNC was clear, in 1922, where its values stood. It is time for the current University administration to decide where it stands. By not changing the name of the building or having any meaningful public pronouncement on the topic, the University suggests that either it is in accord with its 1922 predecessors, or that it is too scared to stand up to those that still are in accord with them.

Adam Bledsoe is a PhD student in the Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
Jessicah Pierre
A Revolutionary Idea to Close the Racial Wealth Divide
George Burchett
Revolutionary Journalism
Dan Bacher
U.S. Senate Confirms Oil Lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary
Nicky Reid
The Strange Success of Russiagate
Chris Gilbert
Defending Venezuela: Two Approaches
Todd Larsen
The Planetary Cost of Amazon’s Convenience
Kelly Martin
How the White House is Spinning Earth Day
Nino Pagliccia
Cuba and Venezuela: Killing Two Birds With a Stone
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Guadalcanal and Bloody Ridge, Solomon Islands
David Kattenburg
Trudeau’s Long Winter
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Ellen Lindeen
What Does it Mean to Teach Peace?
Adewale Maye and Eileen Appelbaum
Paid Family and Medical Leave: a Bargain Even Low-Wage Workers Can Afford
Ramzy Baroud
War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We
Ann Garrison
Vets for Peace to Barbara Lee: Support Manning and Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Mueller Report Changed my Mind on Term Limits
Jill Richardson
Why is Going Green So Hard? Because the System Isn’t
Mallika Khanna
The Greenwashing of Earth Day
Arshad Khan
Do the Harmless Pangolins Have to Become Extinct?
Paul Armentano
Pushing Marijuana Legalization Across the Finish Line
B. R. Gowani
Surreal Realities: Pelosi, Maneka Gandhi, Pompeo, Trump
Paul Buhle
Using the Law to Build a Socialist Society
David Yearsley
Call Saul
Elliot Sperber
Ecology Over Economy 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail