UofSC releases history commission report, announces investment in inclusion efforts
By Jeff Stensland, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-3686
The University of South Carolina’s Presidential Commission on University History issued its final report Friday (July 16), detailing the complex histories and legacies of some of the individuals who shaped the institution since its founding in 1801.
Composed of more than 30 scholars, university officials and community leaders, the commission was created in 2019 to explore the university’s history and to make recommendations that will guide how a more complete story of the state’s flagship can be told to future generations.
The Commission has provided us with greater insight into our university’s complex history, including painful chapters that we cannot ignore. By learning our history, and grappling with its complexity, we can create a more inclusive, and better, future for all of us.
Interim President Harris Pastides
The 300-plus page report includes an in-depth examination of 13 individuals, all of whom have buildings, rooms or landscapes on the Columbia campus named after them. The commission’s report details both the contributions made by these individuals and, in many cases, their advocacy for institutional slavery and racial segregation. The commission’s final report recommends changing 10 of the 13 names it examined. It also includes the names of 16 African Americans who should be considered for future naming opportunities (see FAQs below).
In an email message to all students, faculty and staff, interim President Harris Pastides noted that the report is an important step in confronting the past. And while the state’s Heritage Act prevents the school from changing the names of existing buildings, he said the university has an obligation to better educate the community on the university’s true history, including the significant contributions made by African Americans.
“Each of us will view the report through our own lived experience and will interpret the recommendations through that lens,” Pastides wrote. “The Commission has provided us with greater insight into our university’s complex history, including painful chapters that we cannot ignore. By learning our history, and grappling with its complexity, we can create a more inclusive, and better, future for all of us.”
Pastides also outlined a series of initiatives to further the commission’s recommendations, including an $11 million investment in diversity, equity, and inclusion infrastructure over the next five years. Specific projects may include additional research funding, new web and social media content, walking and virtual tours, and the addition of signage to existing buildings to better contextualize their histories. Key leaders from administration, faculty, students, and alumni will be charged with providing advice and future recommendations with respect to research, education, communications and other efforts related to the commission’s report.
The university’s Board of Trustees will consider new criteria by which future buildings can be named after prominent individuals.
During Pastides’ previous tenure as president, the university took other steps to educate visitors about the university’s history. In 2018, the university unveiled as statue of Richard T. Greener, the university’s first African American professor, between the Russell House student union and the Thomas Cooper Library. In 2017, two markers were installed on the historic Horseshoe acknowledging the contributions of enslaved people to the campus, and in 2014 the university dedicated a garden adjacent to the administration building in honor of the three students who integrated the university in 1963.
To read the entire report and learn more about the commission’s work, visit the Presidential Commission on University History web page.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why was the commission created?
The Presidential Commission on University History was created in October 2019 with
the specific objective of leading a research effort that would help the university
better educate students, faculty, staff, visitors, and local community members about
the complex history of the university, including existing building names. In August
2020, the charge was expanded to specifically include making recommendations on future
naming opportunities for prominent African Americans.
Who are the members of the commission?
The commission was chaired by University of South Carolina history professor Valinda
Littlefield and University Archivist Elizabeth Cassidy West. More than 30 scholars,
students, administrators, Board of Trustees members, alumni and community members
served on the commission. The commission included three subcommittees, each responsible
for different areas of the report: Communications and Education, Names on the Landscape,
and University History. For a complete list, visit the Presidential Commission web page.
Did the commission consider input from community stakeholders?
Yes. The commission held four public forums where anyone from the community was invited
to share their opinions. They also hosted a virtual town hall to answer questions
about the commission’s work and received written feedback throughout the process,
which is included in the final report.
What did the commission recommend?
The commission recommended a series of educational initiatives to better tell the history of the university. Specific recommendations included:
- Adding an interactive map so that visitors can connect to different historical figures, subjects, and events by clicking on different buildings or sections of campus;
- virtual tours;
- a booklet issued during student orientation that provides a brief, inclusive, and illustrated history of the University of South Carolina;
- academic courses on the history of the University and/or incorporate research on the history of the university;
- incorporate/update study of the university’s history into University 101;
- create an exhibit panel for each building providing the history of the building and
a fuller biography of its namesake. This enables the university to provide educational
and historical context on each building, regardless of renaming recommendations, while
the Heritage Act is in place.
The commission recommended the following for future naming opportunities:
- Robert G. Anderson
- Luther J. Battiste, III
- James E. Clyburn
- Matilda Evans
- Ernest A. Finney, Jr.
- Willie Lloyd Harriford Jr.
- Henrie Monteith
- Edna Smith Primus
- Rollin sisters
- Celia Dial Saxon
- Robert Smalls
- James L. Solomon, Jr.
- T. McCants Stewart
- Alonzo Townsend
- Harry Walker
- William James Whipper
The commission report also recommended changing names of 10 of 13 existing buildings/landscape/rooms it reviewed. Those include:
- Barnwell College
- Blatt PE Center
- Gressette Room in Harper College
- Longstreet Theater
- Preston Residential College
- Robert E. Lee Tree
- Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center
- Thomas Cooper Library
- Thornwell College
- Wade Hampton College
Note: The university previously recommended changing the name of the J. Marion Sims residence
The commission recommended against changing the names of Hollings Library, Lieber College and Maxcy College.
How did it determine which buildings to recommend renaming?
The commission outlined nine criteria it used when considering building names. The
criteria is available on the Presidential Commission web page.
What happens next?
President Pastides has charged an implementation group composed of key leaders from administration, faculty, students, and alumni will be charged with providing advice and future recommendations with respect to research, education, communications and other efforts related to the commission’s report.
Pastides has shared the report with the university’s Board of Trustees for information.
The Board of Trustees will consider new criteria by which future buildings can be named after prominent individuals.
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