UNC students call for rename of building named for KKK leader

Andrea Blanford Image
Friday, January 30, 2015
Rally to rename UNC Chapel Hill building
Organizers say Saunders Hall is named for KKK member

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- UNC student activists demanded on Friday that the university's leaders rename a building on campus, named after a leader of the KKK.

Members of student group The Real Silent Sam Coalition organized the rally, marching to the Silent Sam statue on UNC's McCorkle Place.

Silent Sam is a statue of a Confederate soldier representing the 321 alumni who died while fighting in the Civil War. Student activists argue the statue needs to be put into the context of oppression and white supremacy.

Further south on UNC's campus stands Saunders Hall, named in 1922 after William Saunders. Saunders was a UNC graduate who went on to become N.C. Secretary of State.

In the late 1800's Saunders was known in North Carolina as the chief leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Minority students and activists are demanding the building's name be changed, arguing it does not reflect the university that prides itself on diversity.

"I have classes in Saunders and I walk by this Confederate monument here on my campus," explained UNC senior Erica Baker. "I just can't continue to feel like this space is safe, this space is open, this space is an environment that's conducive for learning for everyone."

Charity Watkins, a PhD student in UNC's School of Social Work shared a similar experience.

"You start to feel that you're not always necessarily always welcome here. You don't have the same place as everybody else here," Watkins said.

Chancellor Carol Folt released the following statement ahead of Friday's rally:

"I have spoken to many student groups across campus and listened to our faculty, staff and alumni who have expressed their different perspectives on the issue surrounding Saunders Hall. A part of Carolina's history is inextricably linked with difficult issues of race and class, and how we address those issues today is important. The Board of Trustees is taking a close look at how we can best move forward, guided by their policy on renaming campus buildings.

In the meantime, we will create and support opportunities for respectful dialogue, and we will work even harder to help our community demonstrate our commitment to Carolina's core values of inclusion and respect."

That policy reads, in part,

"If the benefactor's or honoree's reputation changes substantially so that the continued use of that name may compromise the public trust, dishonor the University's standards, or otherwise be contrary to the best interests of the University, the naming may be revoked. However, caution must be taken when, with the passage of time, the standards and achievements deemed to justify a naming action may change and observers of a later age may deem those who conferred a naming honor at an earlier age to have erred. Namings should not be altered simply because later observers would have made different judgments."

To read the Board's full policy on name changes, click here.

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