UNC professors petition to end ban on renaming campus buildings with perceived racist ties

Wednesday, February 5, 2020
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UNC professors petition for change on renaming buildings.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- As one of the oldest institutions in the country, UNC-Chapel Hill has a deep history. A group of professors is challenging part of the history that they say promotes hate.

"I think this is an issue over academic freedom, freedom of speech and open intellectual debate," said William Sturkey.

Sturkey is one of six professors behind a petition asking the UNC Board of Trustees to reconsider its ban on renaming campus landmarks.

"The issue stems from a 2015 moratorium that the Board of Trustees back then imposed on the campus to end all reconsideration of renaming buildings after they renamed Sanders Hall," said Sturkey.

Sanders Hall was originally named for Williams Sanders, a Ku Klux Klan leader who served in the Confederate Army.

"In 2015 they finally gave in and said we don't want to have a building named after him anymore and the compromise, I think, was not to think about renaming any other building," Sturkey said.

There is at least one building that advocates say should be considered: the Carr Building.

"Julian Carr, the namesake of Carrboro was also in the KKK, at least in the first version, and we know at least two instances in which he committed violence against African Americans," Sturkey said.

Carr was a leading benefactor of both UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University and was heavily involved in the Democratic Party and the Methodist Church.

Though professors have been the face behind the petition, it's the students who have overwhelmingly signed their support.

"I think they need to be renamed. And putting a ban on it means they're going to deal with it at a later time and we know they're not going to deal with it at a later time," said Sloan Godby.

The petition has dozens of signatures. But others told ABC11 that they're worried that renaming of the buildings erases history and heritage.

Sturkey said that's hardly what this is about.

"No one is calling for the naming of specific buildings with the petition. We just want to open up the conversation," he said.

The petition has been sent to the Chancellor. The Board of Trustees could discuss this during an upcoming meeting.