On May 28, 2015, UNC’s Board of Trustees voted to remove William Saunders’ name from this building and to rename it Carolina Hall. They explained their reasoning:
“The Klan was a violent terrorist organization that sought to overthrow duly elected state governments and reverse rights granted to newly-emancipated African Americans. Membership in and the activities of the KKK were illegal at that time and their activities would be illegal today. Leadership of the KKK as a qualification for the honor of a building name is inconsistent with UNC’s values of Lux Libertas.” UNC’s Board of Trustees
CONFRONTING OUR HISTORY
Students had voiced concerns about Saunders Hall as far back as 1975, but found little support. That changed in 2014, when a number of campus organizations – including the Black Student Movement, Real Silent Sam Coalition, and Campus Y – brought together students, alumni, faculty, staff, and local townspeople to petition the trustees to take down Saunders’ name. The various groups also organized teach-ins, rallies, and social media campaigns that connected UNC’s past to contemporary issues of equity, justice, and inclusivity.
This movement built on earlier efforts to re-examine the history of the university and the state. In 2005, UNC became one of the first universities in the nation to offer a public account of its ties to slavery, and in that same year a state legislative commission issued a candid report on the 1898 Wilmington coup. In 2006, the Raleigh News and Observer published an apology and special supplement on its role in that tragic event. State lawmakers followed in 2007 with an apology for slavery and segregation.
“We cannot stand idly by as our history goes unquestioned, and as our silence serves as a blaring memorial to the wrongdoings of our past. We have a responsibility to our peers and ourselves to not only unveil, but confront the past we have inherited.” Real Silent Sam Coalition
The trustees took up the students’ challenge, studied the history of Saunders Hall, and held open forums to consider a range of opinions. Some speakers warned against “rewriting history” and erasing memory of the violent era that Saunders did so much to shape. Others countered that selective forgetfulness had been the purpose of the decision to memorialize William Saunders. Now, they said, the university had an opportunity to make the past plainly visible.
Whatever their differences, all of the parties involved in the Saunders debate agreed on one point: the ways we think about the past will define the university we imagine for the future.
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“Telling both the good and the bad makes an unequivocal statement about Carolina’s values. We will be reminded of progress that has been made and progress that must continue.” Lowry Caudill, Chair, UNC Board of Trustees