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University History

Summary of Public Input

The commission held five public forums in 2020 and 2021, on Oct. 13, Oct. 15, Nov. 9, Dec. 7, and April 26. In addition, three groups spoke during full commission meetings. Video and audio recordings are available on the Commission website.

In addition, about 50 emails were received from faculty, staff, students and members of the community.

Anwar Merchant, University of South Carolina professor and director of the Epidemiology Division of the Arnold School of Public Health, wrote in favor of reconsidering the names of buildings on campus.

“A building is named after an individual to honor his or her legacy and inspire future generations,” he wrote. “It becomes problematic when that legacy evokes pain in a group of people.” 

“Buildings named after such individuals may have inspired students when the university was segregated, but today the University of South Carolina has a diverse student body. In the spirit of inclusion and creating a welcoming environment for all, it is appropriate to rename buildings after individuals that would inspire all students.”

During the virtual forums, 18 people offered their comments. Eight other individuals or organizations commented in writing.

In the verbal comments, 17 individuals spoke in favor of renaming buildings to better reflect the diversity of today’s staff, faculty and students.

They argued that names commemorating men who, since the University of South Carolina’s inception in 1801, were slave owners, blatant racists, or supporters or advocates of segregation, should be changed.

Toby Jenkins-Henry, an associate professor of higher education and director of the Museum of Education, said:

“It is not enough to say that we are an institution that believes in justice and equity. We must act.”

The one person who spoke against renaming buildings said re-commemorating those structures would blur the history of the institution.

Carl Ellsworth, a 1968 alumnus and 1972 Law School graduate said:

“Changing traditions and revisiting things at this time is offensive to a lot of us and our generation and alumni who contribute to the university. … If we continue to change our history, we will forget what it is that is our foundation.”

Those submitting written remarks were:

  • Five former University of South Carolina athletes, who wrote in favor of renaming the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center (see Appendix 13).
  • The University’s Black Faculty Caucus, which advocated a “reparation of harms” to the surrounding communities as a result of the University’s expansion into those neighborhoods (see Appendix 14).
  • Bettis C. Rainsford Sr., a Law School alumnus and Edgefield businessman. He asked that the name of Strom Thurmond not be removed from the wellness center (see Appendix 15).
  • The Ward One Reunion Organization, which asked that the wellness center be renamed for African American educator Celia Dial Saxon. An elementary school named in her honor was demolished to build the wellness center (see Appendix 16).

 

Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center

Central to the push by some to rename buildings is the debate surrounding the “Strom gym” led by former Gamecock athletes, including football great Marcus Lattimore and Moe Brown, a former University football player and former candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.

For Renaming the Wellness Center

Those advocating renaming the wellness center cited Thurmond’s:

  • Defense of segregation
  • Opposition to and lengthy filibuster of the Voting Rights Act
  • Bid for President of the United States as a “Dixiecrat”
  • Fathership of an interracial daughter by his family's maid, a 15-year-old. He was 22. 

“This is not about me or Mr. Thurmond,” Lattimore wrote. “It's about the fourteen million people that come to our capital every year. It is about prospective students … who might feel they do not belong…It’s about the message we are sending the world.”

Against Renaming the Wellness Center

Those advocating against renaming the wellness center cited Thurmond’s:

  • Commitment to education beginning as a teacher and administrator in Edgefield
  • Securing copious funding for scholarships, building projects and other educational pursuits during his tenure as the nation’s longest serving U.S. senator
  • Lifelong personal commitment to and advocacy of physical fitness
  • Hiring of the first African American senior staffer in 1970 by a Southern lawmaker, and other Black hires through the years

Rainsford cited now-U.S. President Joe Biden’s eulogy of Thurmond at the senator’s funeral in Columbia in 2003.

“I do not believe that at his core (Thurmond) was a racist,” Rainsford cited Biden as saying.

 

Ward One

Several speakers asked that the University take steps to recognize the in-town neighborhoods, such as Ward One and Wheeler Hill, that have been obliterated by the campus’s expansion.

Among those were the Ward One Reunion Organization and the University’s Black Faculty Caucus.

Mattie Anderson-Roberson, community member and member of the Ward One Reunion Organization, is an advocate for renaming the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center in honor of the late educator, Celia Dial Saxon.

She wrote the current wellness center replaced an elementary school named for Saxon. Renaming the building on the location of that historically African American school would honor that educator and the many faculty, staff, students and community members closely associated with the school and appropriately acknowledge its contributions to the city and the state.

 

Robert E. Lee Tree

Robert Bockman, faculty member of the University’s School of Law, recommended the commission look into the Robert E Lee Memorial Magnolia Tree marker at the front entrance of McKissick Museum.

He said, “According to the information on the marker, it was installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in May 1954, the month and year of the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education — not likely a mere coincidence. I walk by the tree and the marker twice a day on my way to and from the Law School and never a day goes by that I don’t think of the intent that must have motivated the people who were responsible for its installation.”

 

Hollings Library

Liz Pittleman, community member, wrote that the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library should not be changed. 

“Hollings was governor when the fight for segregation was escalating in South Carolina. (He) peacefully integrated schools in SC, unlike governors in our neighboring states. He actually helped deescalate the fight for segregation in SC in the early 1960s.

“Before you make any decision on renaming the Hollings Library you should look at Senator Hollings' record both as governor and as U.S. Senator. … He championed integration — like appointing the first African American to be Chief Counsel of any U.S. Senate Committee. You might also want to read the remarks given by Congressman Jim Clyburn at Senator Hollings’ funeral. I believe you will realize that it would be an injustice to your cause to remove the Hollings name from your Library.”

 

J. Marion Sims and Wade Hampton

Jazmyne McCrae, a University graduate student and a leader in the Repeal the Heritage Act effort, advocated renaming buildings to mitigate the University’s “racist” past.

In addition to Thurmond, she said that other figures, such as Sims, Hampton and others, reflect the university’s bigoted past and that buildings and facilities commemorating them should be changed to be more welcoming to today’s students, faculty, staff and the community.

Sims is considered the “Father of Modern Gynecology” but earned that reputation by experimenting on enslaved African American women.

Hampton was a Civil War general and a large plantation and slave owner who later became the state’s governor and dismantled Reconstruction policies that gave African Americans voting and other civil rights.

McCrae suggested the name of the Sims residence hall should be changed to honor Henrie Monteith Treadwell. She was one of three African Americans who integrated the University of South Carolina in1963.

“USC has a unique legacy of integration and progress that finally has a chance to be honored with this moment of reflection,” McCrae said.

 

Conclusion

A significant majority of speakers and those providing written comments were in favor of re-commemorating buildings to better reflect the diversity and inclusion that now attract students, staff and faculty.


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