UNC Chapel Hill Will Rename 4 Buildings That Honored White Supremacists

Jul 29, 2020

Credit Brian Batista / For WUNC

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees has voted to remove the names from four campus buildings that honored men who supported White supremacy in their careers and political lives.

The Board voted 11-to-2 to rename buildings named for Charles Aycock, Julian Carr, Josephus Daniels and Thomas Ruffin, Sr.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz recommended the removal of their names and submitted reports prepared by a committee recounting their misconduct.

"The actions of these individuals were egregious even for their time and their conduct was central to their careers and lives as a whole," Guskiewicz said in his recommendation.

Long Journey to Name Removals

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees opened the doors to removing building names when they voted in June to end a moratorium on the renaming of campus landmarks. The Board of Trustees, with different membership, put the 16-year ban in-place in 2015 swiftly after renaming Saunders Hall.

Students and faculty have since called for that ban to be removed and for more building names to be reconsidered for their racist ties.

Following the policy change this summer, the university's History, Race & A Way Forward Commission recommended these four names for removal earlier this month. Guskiewicz promised to move quickly to bring that recommendation before the Board of Trustees.

Trustee Gene Davis made the motion to remove the recommended names. He said his views on the issue have evolved alongside the national conversation on racism in recent months.

"Where I was a year ago, and where I am today are different," Davis said. "I have been on a personal journey. I think we all have been."

Sticking Points and Final Outcomes

The Board of Trustees' decision on Wednesday was not without dissent and discussion.

Trustee John Preyer questioned the renaming of Daniels Student Stores, arguing it honors the Daniels family and not only Josephus Daniels — an editor and publisher of the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper who supported White supremacist movements financially and in editorial content.

In response, Trustee Chuck Duckett stressed this decision should in no way dishonor the descendants of alumni whose names will now be removed. He noted that Frank and Julia Daniels have made significant contributions to higher education and civil rights, and the removal of the name Daniels from the Student Stores would be directed at Josephus Daniels.

One sticking point arose over the renaming of Ruffin Residence Hall, which was named jointly for Thomas Ruffin Sr. and Thomas Ruffin Jr. The elder Ruffin was a North Carolina Supreme Court justice known for writing an opinion that upheld the right of slaveowners to abuse and kill enslaved people. The Board did not receive any details of misconduct by Thomas Ruffin Jr.

The Board chose to vote for each name removal separately, and each of the four passed 11-to-2. 

Trustees John Preyer and Allie Ray McCullen cast votes against all of the proposed name removals. Preyer made a motion for UNC-Chapel Hill to instead forgive these men and observe an annual day of forgiveness. That proposal was voted down.

The buildings will receive temporary names. Aycock Hall, for example, will be known for the time being as Residence Hall 1. Ruffin Residence Hall will keep its name, but all reference to Thomas Ruffin, Sr. will be removed from signs inside the building. Guskiewicz said those changes will be made within a matter of days.

"This is what great universities do every day. We teach people and our society how to adapt and be the change agents for addressing the grand challenges of our time," Guskiewicz said in closing.

The Board of Trustees expects to put a process in place to formally rename the buildings at a later date.