“Our aspirations to be the nation’s leading global public research university must include a much deeper dedication to reconciling that history with a contemporary commitment to full racial equality and inclusivity,” Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and Board Chair Richard Stevens wrote in an email to campus after the vote. “That requires real action and full accountability – and it will start with us.”
The action came in the wake of national protests and calls for racial equality, including a Change.org petition to end the moratorium that garnered more than 9,000 signatures. Faculty members launched a similar petition in February. A member of the University’s Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward came forward Tuesday with a proposal that the University pay for the education of the descendants of the enslaved people who helped build it.
“Public pressure is rising by the minute,” said Student Body President and trustee Reeves Moseley, referring to the Change.org petition. “We don’t have time to not act on it right now.”
Trustees approved the moratorium in 2015 when the board approved removing the name of William Saunders, one-time leader of the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan, from Saunders Hall and renaming it Carolina Hall. A related resolution called for the creation of a task force to evaluate how the history of the University is presented in physical locations across campus.
At the time, trustees said the moratorium was to enable the task force, selected by then-Chancellor Carol Folt, to complete its work. That work continues with the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward created in January by Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz in one of his first official acts. The Commission is charged with developing curricula that will educate students and help faculty teach the history of the University, including the namesakes of campus buildings.
But those opposed to the moratorium said it hindered this work. “The moratorium on renamings now casts a similar shadow that threatens to darken the work of our campus’s important new Commission,” the faculty-led petition reads. “Now is an opportune moment for the Board to remove that shadow.”
“As a new trustee, I never understood the length of 16 years anyway,” said BOT secretary Teresa Artis Neal. “This is the time. The temperature of the country has changed enough. It needs to be lifted.”
Since the enaction of the moratorium, no buildings have been renamed, but in 2018 historical references to William R. Kenan Sr., a leader in the white-supremacist-led Wilmington Massacre of 1898, were removed from plaques inside Kenan Stadium. In August 2018, protesters toppled the controversial Confederate Monument, and in October 2018, Folt officially apologized for the University’s use of enslaved people.
Trustee Charles Duckett, who was a board member when the moratorium was approved, said that the freeze on renaming buildings was a “place holder” that he had “no problem removing” in light of recent events.
“This is not about changing history,” he said. “You can’t change history. This is about leading. It’s about being a great institution, and it’s about doing the right thing.”
Trustees Allie Ray McCullen and John P. Preyer cast the two dissenting votes.
Guskiewicz thanked the trustees for lifting the moratorium and giving “the History, Race and a Way Forward Commission the latitude that it needs to fulfill its mission” and sending a clear message that “every member of our campus community knows that they belong and can thrive here on campus.”
Stevens appointed trustees Artis Neal, Duckett, Gene Davis Jr. and David Boliek Jr. as a subcommittee to work with Guskiewicz on guidelines for removing names from buildings to be presented no later than the next regular meeting on July 16.
“We want to do it right, and we want to do it in a timely manner,” Stevens said. “We haven’t at this point identified particular buildings.”
Over the years, members of the Carolina community have cited dozens of buildings on campus with troublesome ties to enslavers and white supremacists. One name that came up in the trustees’ discussion was Josephus Daniels, whose family removed his statue from Nash Square in Raleigh the day before the meeting. Daniels Student Stores currently bears the name of the early News & Observer publisher and U.S. Navy Secretary who has been directly connected to the Wilmington Massacre.
“The guy helped overthrow a legal government in the state of North Carolina. I want to see things changed where Josephus Daniels is not celebrated,” Duckett said. “We need to stop celebrating people who blocked the progress of this state and celebrate some people that helped this university advance this state.”