Presidential Commission on University History
Melissa DeVelvis, PhD
I began work as the research assistant for the Commission in September 2020. My main tasks assigned were as follows: 1) Organize and compile sources for a University history website 2) Create a list of notable historical figures should the University decide to rename buildings, monuments or scholarships 3) create a short, informative list of every named building and monument on the Columbia campus and 4) write detailed reports of thirteen building or monument namesakes on campus, as chosen by the Names on the Landscape subcommittee. I also provided suggestions for future directions to be taken after the first phase of the Commission’s work is completed.
1) Organizing and compiling sources for a University History website
Working with the University History subcommittee, I compiled pre-existing articles, sources and webpages that focused on particular areas of university history that will eventually be located on the University history webpage for public access. These sources include articles from the University of South Carolina publications office; projects and papers by university students and faculty; and local history, community, and news organizations. I also drafted brief descriptions of these sources that will be visible on the site and created an organization system of headings and subheadings for easy access by users. I recommended changes to the pre-existing university history timeline to better streamline the information.
2) Crafting a list of notable figures in University and Columbia history
Using the South Carolina Encyclopedia, published sources on university history such as Henry Lesesne’s A History of the University of South Carolina and Daniel Hollis’s two-volume University of South Carolina, and the South Carolina African American Hall of Fame, I compiled a list of eighty notable figures in campus, city and state history that are often overlooked by the historical narrative. After compiling, I added names recommended by the subcommittee, community members who spoke at Commission meetings and student organizations such as the University of South Carolina NAACP Collegiate Chapter. I then added to the spreadsheet basic information, biographies, time periods, and what made each figure historically significant. They were further grouped into categories such as: South Carolina firsts, University of South Carolina firsts, African American history, women’s history, LGBTQIA history, Civil Rights history, and Reconstruction history. From this list, the subcommittee then compiled a short list for which to write brief biographies and recommend they be considered for renaming purposes to the Commission.
3) List of names on the landscape
A list of all buildings and monuments on the Columbia campus that were named after a person were compiled. There were seventy-six in total. This list included the date built, renovated, the changing names of the building, the changing purposes of the building and the name and description of the person they were named after. For this information I referenced published campus histories as well as A Spirit of Place, published by the university’s Division of Administration and Finance in 2016.
4) Reports on 13 names on the landscape
Biographies were created for the thirteen building namesakes suggested by the Names on the Landscape Committee: Robert Barnwell, Solomon Blatt, Thomas Cooper, L. Marion Gressette, Wade Hampton, Ernest F. Hollings, Robert E. Lee, Francis Lieber, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Jonathan Maxcy, William Campbell Preston, James H. Thornwell and Strom Thurmond. In addition to their basic biographies, I devoted extra sections to their time spent at and their relation to the University of South Carolina. I also researched aspects of their lives that did not uphold the Carolinian Creed such as slave ownership, segregation and sexual harassment. I presented this information in an encyclopedic manner, leaving out any personal recommendations for naming or renaming, as this was the duty of the Names subcommittee. I heavily cited and footnoted encyclopedia articles, academic articles and books about the historical figures. For the university section, I frequently referenced our Board of Trustees minutes held by the University Archives as well as secondary sources such as campus histories by Daniel Hollis and Henry Lesesne.
For historical figures who owned slaves, I consulted the U.S. Census slave schedules. These sources list the enslaver’s name as well as how many enslaved persons they owned. They do not list names of the enslaved; they are listed as inventory. Many of the figures researched enslaved people both on plantations and while teaching at what is now the university, thus it is very likely that these enslaved people were “hired out” by the college. The enslaver would be paid for the “loaning” out of their property, though sometimes hired out enslaved people were allowed to keep a small portion of earnings.
When investigating connections to slavery and segregation, I included and attached the historical figure’s own words, letters and speeches about the topic. Many of these figures were politicians and used their platforms to advocate for the protection and spread of slavery or segregation. I also included their words on slavery or segregation after they were respectively outlawed to investigate the extent to which the figure expressed regret or wrongdoing for their previous actions.
Finally, I included a section about the building’s history, when it was named and why. In many cases, the Board of Trustees minutes do not include their reasoning for why trustees named the building other than briefly mentioning one’s connection to the school. If the naming occurred in a period during which the namesake was being honored elsewhere, such as Wade Hampton III and his role in re-establishing white supremacy in South Carolina, I included information relating to the other monuments in this figure’s name. I explained what the monument would mean in the period during which it was built, often after the historical figure’s lifetime. In some cases, the figure was directly connected to the intended purpose of the campus building. In others, the logic was less clear. In addition to referencing the minutes, I also utilized scholarly works on monuments and history in the South, as well as newspaper documentation from The State and The Gamecock.
After compiling the reports, the Names subcommittee, using approved criteria, composed a list of reasons to retain or remove the name. After they voted to retain or remove, I then added an abridged section to the beginning of each report providing building history and the figure’s connections to the college and the main reasons to retain or remove.
In total, the report is more than 40,000 words. I have referenced over 150 primary and archival sources such as letters, minutes, newspaper articles and the U.S. census, and more than sixty secondary sources..