UNC Board considers changing name of building named for KKK leader

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A rally on UNC's campus Wednesday drew students and others that want to change names of buildings and monuments they say honor people with racist pasts.

Repeated calls to change the title of a UNC Chapel Hill building named for a former leader of the North Carolina Klu Klux Klan led to a meeting with university leaders Wednesday.

Students with the Real Silent Sam Coalition and Students for Education Reform were shuttled to attend a Board of Trustees meeting located off-campus Wednesday afternoon.

It seems the fight to change the long-contested name of Saunders Hall has finally made waves big enough that the board could consider a change.

"This is an issue that's been discussed for many years," said UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, "and yet we have a board that said they're going to take it on. They're not going to turn away from this discussion."

"This issue of Saunders Hall is not new. The first date we've been able to uncover when it came up was in 1999," said Board of Trustees Vice Chair Alston Gardner.

Saunders Hall is named after UNC graduate and former trustee, William Saunders. That was in 1922, after he was investigated as a leader of the KKK.

"The Jim Crow Era in North Carolina was an era that not a lot of people really want to deal with and I think when we start talking about names and places in this campus. We're coming directly head-on into that history," said Gardner.

However, some in the crowd of speakers warned about getting rid of reminders of that history altogether.

"If the options were simply to move the name or to leave it, I would vote in an instant to remove it," said history professor James Leloudis, one of the many who took to the podium to talk about UNC's history. "I'm drawn to a third option - that is the option to curate and to bring scholarship and to bring teaching to bear on Saunders Hall and other contested spaces."

Leloudis' worry is that getting rid of any reminders of the negative parts of UNC's history might sweep under the rug any attention to the wrongdoings of William Saunders. He even suggested maybe a plaque on the building to explain any potential name change and commemorating the conversation that took place to change the name of the building.

Protesters in the crowd seemed open to this idea.

No final decision was made out of the meeting. Instead, the board is turning the conversation over to the public. They want to broaden the discussion of what to do next with not just Saunders Hall, other spots across campuses, such as the Confederate Monument.

You have an entire month to voice your opinion. The link to that forum is here.

The board will use input from that, and this latest board meeting to decide the next step.

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