Places Dedicated to Enslavers and White Supremacists at UNC-Chapel Hill (Poster-Tour)

Danielle Dulken
Aug 22 · 8 min read

On the evening of August 20, 2018, a crowd of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ripped the Confederate Monument, Silent Sam, from its stone plinth. A year later, on the anniversary of the statue’s fall, the campus community held a celebration rally. During the hours-long festivities, students led a poster-tour of places at Carolina dedicated to enslavers and white supremacists to demand the removal of their namesakes from campus.

Below is the speech from the poster-tour.

The tour was made possible by extensive UNC student research featured on the public history site, Names in Brick and Stone, as well as materials developed by University Libraries for researchers.

You may learn more about the anniversary rally here and here.

Hundreds of students gather around the Old Well to protest buildings, avenues, and other places dedicated to enslavers and white supremacists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Image source: NC Policy Watch)
Students march down Columbia Avenue, stopping traffic, to protest the enslavers and white supremacists honored across the University’s campus. (Image source: The News & Observer)

Welcome to a tour of places at UNC-Chapel Hill dedicated to enslavers and white supremacists. This is a tour about the power of the built environment. We hope what you learn tonight catalyzes you into action: No more white supremacist honorifics on our campus!

This is a stationary tour made possible by student researchers and the posters that surround you.

Silent Sam is Down. Thanks to a long-fought and hard-won battle — led by Black and Brown and queer students — against white supremacy at the historically white university, UNC-Chapel Hill.

As we look back into the past, remember: UNC-Chapel Hill, the first public university in the nation, opened its doors to white, male students in 1795. Black people were enslaved here, worked here, but were not allowed to study here until 1955, 160 years later. Tonight we are gathered to fight back against more than a century of racist hatred at UNC.

We know from the violent Confederate honorific, Silent Sam, that built environment matters. That the landscape surrounding us is pervasive.

We know that memorials to white supremacy imagined as statues — or engraved namesakes carved into campus buildings — bleed into our campus administration, our departments, our classrooms, our curriculums, our interpersonal experiences. These memorials to white supremacy remind us who is welcome here and who is not.

We know that when white supremacy is carved into the very places we live and we work and we study that Black and Brown people are unsafe.

The built environment is powerful. We know that because we breathe easier since Silent Sam’s fall. Rust in pieces, you bastard.

Tonight, on this special anniversary, we invite you to join our tour. We invite you to look around and pay attention to the places you walk, the places you sleep, the places you eat, the places you write and think. When you say the name of your dorm or your campus office building, who has this university taught you is worthy of honor?

The Real Silent Sam Coalition, an antiracist, interracial organization of students and community members organized in 2011, knew this when they demanded the Ku Klux Klan leader George Saunder’s name be scrubbed from the geography building, known today as Carolina Hall. Of course, the University was still too wed to the myth of apolotics to accept the name students selected, Hurston Hall, after Black scholar Zora Neale Hurston. In honor of the student leaders before us and their vision, we call it Hurston Hall.

Powerful Black-led movements lead to the dedication of four campus buildings to Black leaders: The Sonya Haynes Stone Center, Horton Residence Hall, Cheek-Clark Building, and Jackson Hall. And the memorial honoring former enslaved University workers: Wilson Caldwell, November Caldwell, David Barham, and Henry Smith.

Today, at least twenty-eight places on campus are dedicated to enslavers and white supremacists. Twenty-eight. These white people were university presidents, Women’s Rights leaders, university trustees, state governors, U.S. presidents, scientists, writers, professors, and more.

Look around you.

Every place on campus printed on a white poster is named for an enslaver.

Every place on campus listed on a red, blue, or yellow poster is named for a white supremacist.

In most cases, the only thing that divides an enslaver and a white supremacist is the year the 13th amendment was ratified, 1865.

Let me begin the tour with where we are gathered.

1. Not named on a poster, nor seen on the landscape today, stood Steward’s Hall right near the center of Cameron Avenue. Steward’s Hall was a wooden structure that left behind no artifacts. UNC’s 3rd President, David Lowery Swain, housed enslaved people he owned at Steward’s Hall. Called “college servants” in University Records, it’s likely these enslaved people were forced to serve students and faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill.

2. Swain Hall, on the eastern perimeter of McCorkle Place, is where we teach and learn English, Communication, and Literature. It is dedicated to President Swain who oversaw campus from 1835–1868. 33 years. He was also an enslaver and owned many people including people hired to help build the University.

3. President Swain politically aligned himself with other enslavers, including Paul Cameron. Cameron Avenue — the main road through north campus — right over here — is dedicated to him. Paul Cameron owned 12,675 acres of land and enslaved 470 people in Orange County and more on plantations in Alabama and Mississippi. Cameron was one of the wealthiest men in the Antebellum South.

4. Mitchell Hall on South Campus is dedicated to Elisha Mitchell, the geologist who measured the highest eastern mountain peak, Mount Mitchell. Mitchell moved to North Carolina from Connecticut to be a geology and chemistry professor at UNC-Chapel Hill. When he arrived here from the North he enslaved people. He wrote publicly that slavery was not a sin.

5. In 1924, Spencer Hall — located on the northeast tip of campus — was the first building dedicated to a white woman at UNC. Cornelia Spencer is known as “the foremost daughter of North Carolina.” But her writings, archived at Wilson Library, reveal that Spencer was a fervent white supremacist. In 1994, The Spencer Bell Award was inaugurated to recognize women leaders at UNC-Chapel Hill in Cornelia Spencer’s honor. In 2004, then-Chancellor Moser had to retire the Spencer Bell Award because nominees refused to accept an award honoring a white supremacist. But, the University thinks it okay to let student’s live in a dormitory dedicated to her.

6. Behind Spencer Hall sits Alderman Hall, another dormitory dedicated to a white supremacist. Edwin A. Alderman became UNC’s president in 1896. He was a staunch women’s rights advocate and is known for campaigning the Board of Trustees to admit white women to UNC-Chapel Hill. He was also a white supremacist who helped elect Governor Charles B. Aycock to office in North Carolina.

7. On the eastern edge of campus sits Aycock Hall, yet another dormitory dedicated to a white supremacist. Infamously known for his anti-Black campaign tactics and the disenfranchisement of Black voters, Governor Charles Aycock’s name was removed from buildings at Duke and East Carolina in 2015 and buildings at UNC-Greensboro in 2016. Since then, other public schools have followed suit. But not UNC-Chapel Hill. His name remains here to this day.

8. The large green quad between South Building and Wilson Library, where many of you relax or rush between classes, is called Polk Place after US President James K. Polk. President James K. Polk was an enslaver.

9. The place where you get your textbooks and UNC-branded clothing, Daniels Students Stores, is named after Josephus Daniels, an editor at the News & Observer who played a huge role in promoting white supremacy and Black disenfranchisement in the US South.

10. And we still have a building on campus named for Julian Carr, who we know today as the avowed white supremacist who gave the infamous anti-Black speech at the dedication of Silent Sam. Today administrators work in the Carr Building right across the street from us.

11. Next to Carr Building is Caldwell Building which ironically houses the Parr Center for Ethics. It is named for the First President of UNC-Chapel Hill, Joseph Caldwell. He was an enslaver.

12. Then there is Kenan Stadium, our athletic field where students work without pay to earn UNC money. Many of these students are Black. Kenan Stadium was dedicated to William Rand Kenan Sr. who was an enslaver and the commander of a white supremacist unit that murdered at least 25 Black people in the Wilmington Massacre of 1898. In 2018, after controversy, UNC administrators thought they were clever to rename the stadium, Kenan Stadium, after William Rand Kenan, Jr., his son. But we all know that the wealth that made Kenan Jr. a huge philanthropist was made possible by his father’s profits from slavery. One cannot replace the other in our quest for justice.

13. The last building on our tour is Ruffin Residence Hall on the northeastern edge of campus. This building is dedicated to Thomas Ruffin who was a UNC Trustee, judge, enslaver, and the partner of a slave trading business known for purposefully ripping families apart. Thomas Ruffin was the judge who infamously ruled in the legal case State versus Mann that there was “full dominion of the owner over the slave.” He concluded “the power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect” and rejected any human rights or legal defense for enslaved people. His ruling had deadly consequences for enslaved people in America. But at UNC, we honor him like we do the 27 other people named on posters surrounding you.

The names and places you have just heard comprise less than half of the enslavers and white supremacists honored on our campus.

Know that these people — whose names surround you — we’re not “people of their time.” Many of their peers did not enslave people or write publicly in support of white supremacy. Judge William Gaston, a UNC Trustee, argued against slavery in 1832. And in the 1850s, Professor Benjamin Hendriks admitted his abolitionist beliefs to students.

And let me state an important detail about timelines.

We learned that Silent Sam memorial was not built near the end of the Civil War, but decades later in the 1920s to make Black and Brown and Native people feel unwelcome on campus; to terrorize them. Many of the building names at UNC have a similar history. They too were dedicated to enslavers and white supremacists in the 1920s or later in the 1960s, two periods in American history that witnessed a fervent rise in white supremacy: Jim Crow and the New Right, respectively.

The building names, like Silent Sam, had and have a purpose on our campus. They enact, enforce, and honor white supremacy. This is precisely why the Board of Governors forced a re-naming moratorium on us after the Real Silent Sam Coalition’s important victory at Hurston Hall. It isn’t hard to see how the white supremacist honorifics across campus undergird and reinforce the Board of Governor’s legislative policies. And it isn’t hard to see how their foot soldiers — UNC administrators and their police force — serve them and uphold it.

The memorials to white supremacy at UNC are both a symptom and a cause of racism in this town, this state, this nation. But we tore down Sam… we renamed Hurston Hall… and we will do it again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Until they all fall!

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