Charity Lackey is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She wrote this piece in response to students on her campus rallying to change the name of Saunders Hall, a building on the UNC campus named for a Ku Klux Klan leader, to Hurston Hall, for Zora Neale Hurston, the first black student at UNC.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a great university, it is a proud university, and most of all it is an old university. The old, however noble they may be, often have intriguing histories; our university, being one born in the sweltering heat of the South, is unavoidably tied to the Civil War, and we all know exactly where talk of the Civil War takes us: slavery, a blemish on America’s history that we have tried so indignantly to cover up with the most expensive brands of concealer and foundation such as biased public education and phrases like “post-racial society.” However great America becomes at blending the makeup, the blemish of slavery, race, and the still-very-relevant implications of those two become even more visible.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a part of that great American face and those blemishes are present in the many campus buildings named after supporters of white supremacy and suppression of the upward mobility of black and brown people.
We even have a building named after a former Grand Dragon of the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan (and for those of you not hip to the vocabulary of the South’s deeply racial history, “Grand Dragon” is just Southern colloquialism for headmaster, organizer or any other term synonymous with leader). Yes, one of the buildings on our campus is named for a KKK leader.
Who was this “Grand Dragon” and what did he ever do to deserve a building named in his honor? Colonel William L. Saunders: venerated, wounded veteran of the Civil War, practitioner of law, compiler of history, and the chief organizer of the Ku Klux Klan. Those are in fact the very items listed on his resume of sorts found in an antique manuscript of the 1920 Board of Trustees. Those are precisely the items leading to this utterly disgusting decision.
The Ku Klux Klan, of course, is the reining savior of all things white and supreme in America. They could effectively be called a white home-terrorist group for the grievances committed against black and brown bodies since the beginnings of the Reconstruction era. Their sole objective was (and still is) to terrorize the lives of all beings other. Remember the Birmingham Church bombing, in which four little girls were killed because of the hate-filled hearts and minds of ignorant men. The Ku Klux Klan killed people and Colonel William Saunders lead them.
Which brings us to present-day UNC-Chapel Hill. We have a hall on our campus named for a Ku Klux Klan leader, and students on campus are understandably irate. We are dissatisfied and quite frankly tired of having to politely ask our university to remove this disrespectful and blatant honor of a man who stood only for the benefit of one people at the blood-shed expense of another. The Real Silent Sam Coalition has demanded the removal of Saunders name, to be replaced with that of Zora Neale Hurston.
I could write and entire book on the importance of Zora Neale Hurston (and there are already a lot of great ones out there that you could read), but I’ll only tell you what you really need to know: Ms. Hurston was the first black person to ever step foot in a class before integration at the great University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Many feel that this monumental feat is somehow not deserving of a building being named after her, and here is why that argument serves no purpose but malevolence. To name this building after Zora Neale Hurston is to make a bold and deliberate statement, a statement that contradicts the thought that you have to be an old, rich, white male to deserve a building named after you. It shifts the monetary values into ones of true historical importance. She told the story of the unknown Negro South and it is time that we recognize that this campus is no longer obligated to its racialized history.