De­bates and protests in­crease over uni­ver­si­ties’ racial lega­cies

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - NATION & WORLD -

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— The na­tional de­bate over re­mov­ing Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols from col­lege cam­puses is spurring wider ques­tions about univer­sity bene­fac­tors whose ties to slav­ery or white supremacy flew un­der the radar in decades past.

Stu­dents and alumni are no longer sim­ply op­pos­ing overt Con­fed­er­ate memo­ri­als, but also lesser- known founders and donors with trou­bling racial lega­cies. And the dis­cus­sions have in­ten­si­fied af­ter deadly white na­tion­al­ist protests in Au­gust in Char­lottesville.

The prob­lem is ap­par­ent at the Univer­sity of North Carolina, where op­po­si­tion to a Con­fed­er­ate statue has dredged up racist state­ments by a for­mer trustee. To­bacco mag­nate Ju­lian S. Carr, him­self a Con­fed­er­ate vet­eran, gave the ded­i­ca­tion speech in 1913 for the cam­pus statue de­pict­ing an anony­mous rebel sol­dier. His re­marks in­cluded a ref­er­ence to the “pleas­ing duty” of whip­ping a black woman in pub­lic.

“He stood out here and stood in front of a crowd of peo­ple and bragged about how he drug a ‘ ne­gro wench’ through the streets for in­sult­ing a white woman,” said Gabrielle John­son, a stu­dent who helped or­ga­nize a sitin against the statue nick­named “Si­lent Sam.” “I don’t see how that em­bod­ies any­thing other than ha­tred.”

UNC’s chan­cel­lor has said a state his­toric mon­u­ment law pre­vents the univer­sity from re­mov­ing Si­lent Sam. But the fresh at­ten­tion to Carr has spurred wider con­ver­sa­tions about his legacy at UNC and nearby Duke Univer­sity, where part of cam­pus was built on land do­nated by Carr. Both schools are home to a “Carr Build­ing” and have con­vened pan­els on how to han­dle con­tro­ver­sial build­ing names.

The is­sue res­onates be­yond the South. Yale Univer­sity an­nounced this year it would re­name a res­i­den­tial col­lege hon­or­ing for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent John C. Cal­houn, an ar­dent sup­porter of slav­ery. Ge­orge­town and Har­vard have ac­knowl­edged or apol­o­gized for slav­ery ties.

And in mid- Septem­ber, pro­test­ers at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia draped a black shroud over a statue of univer­sity founder Thomas Jef­fer­son, a slave owner they ac­cused of racism. Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Teresa Sul­li­van con­demned the pro­test­ers’ ac­tion while ac­knowl­edg­ing Jef­fer­son’s faults: “In ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tion to his per­sua­sive ar­gu­ments for lib­erty and hu­man rights, how­ever, he was also a slave owner.”

About 30 mostly South­ern uni­ver­si­ties will gather this Oc­to­ber for a sym­po­sium on higher ed­u­ca­tion’s ties to slav­ery. One of them, Wash­ing­ton and Lee Univer­sity, is keep­ing Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Robert E. Lee in its name while pledg­ing fur­ther study of the school’s his­tory. Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Will Dud­ley urged “a crit­i­cal anal­y­sis that goes be­yond the car­i­ca­tures of one- di­men­sional he­roes and vil­lains.”

Schol­ars note that Carr — not un­like Lee or Jef­fer­son— has a com­pli­cated legacy. He also do­nated to African- Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions and served as trea­surer for the group that started what be­came his­tor­i­cally black North Carolina Cen­tral Univer­sity, said univer­sity ar­chiv­ist An­dre Vann.

“If I had to ra­tio­nal­ize some of this, the lives and ex­pe­ri­ences of men and women like Carr and oth­ers are re­ally a mir­ror of the so­ci­ety that they lived in,” Vann said.

Pro­test­ers at UNC now hope Carr’s own words will per­suade ad­min­is­tra­tors of the need for change.

Re­cently, John­son stood be­fore de­mon­stra­tors at Si­lent Sam and read parts of Carr’s 1913 speech through a bull­horn.

Turn­ing to­ward the statue, she ex­claimed: “Si­lent Sam does not rep­re­sent his­tory ... he rep­re­sents racism!”


Univer­sity of North Carolina stu­dent Gabrielle John­son is among peo­ple ques­tion­ing the views and ac­tions of founders and bene­fac­tors of their alma maters.

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