In the wake of the recent decision by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees to rescind the 16-year moratorium on building renaming that was enacted in 2015, many members of the UNC community have suggested potential new namesakes for campus buildings and public spaces.
In this post, we’re gathering some of the names that have come up most often and sharing suggested resources for learning more. We’ll update the post with new names and resources based on the feedback we receive.
Pauli Murray’s name often comes up in discussions about potential new namesakes for UNC buildings. An influential and inspirational author, activist, lawyer, and Episcopal priest, Murray had lifelong ties to UNC. She was a descendant of university trustee James Strudwick Smith and was related to benefactor Mary Ruffin Smith (namesake of Smith Building at UNC). Murray applied to attend graduate school at UNC in 1938 and was rejected because she was an African American. Four decades later, in recognition of Murray’s exceptional career, UNC offered Murray an honorary degree. She ultimately declined, citing the university’s continued failure to provide equal opportunities to Black students. UNC would not be the first University to name a building for Murray. In 2017 Yale University dedicated Pauli Murray College, a new residential building.
- Biography of Pauli Murray from the Pauli Murray Project: https://paulimurrayproject.org/pauli-murray/biography/
- Pauli Murray, Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family, 1978. https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb1532064
- The 1939 Correspondence between Pauli Murray and Frank Porter Graham: https://blogs.lib.unc.edu/uarms/2016/02/19/the-1939-correspondence-between-pauli-murray-and-frank-porter-graham/
- Letter from Pauli Murray to Chancellor Nelson Ferebee Taylor, 1979: https://uncofthepeople.com/2018/12/17/letter-from-pauli-murray-to-chancellor-nelson-ferebee-taylor/
- UNC Library resources on Pauli Murray: https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/?q=%22Murray%2C+Pauli%2C+1910-1985%22&search_field=subject
Henry Owl, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, became the first Native American student to attend UNC when he enrolled to attend graduate school in 1928. He graduated the following year with a master’s degree in history. Owl’s thesis, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Before and After Removal, is an important history of the Cherokee.
- “Noteworthy Firsts: Henry Owl.” https://blogs.lib.unc.edu/uarms/2016/12/07/noteworthy-firsts-henry-owl/
- “Living in Two Worlds,” profile from the Lenoir-Rhyne College alumni magazine: https://archive.org/stream/profilemagazineo2007wunse#page/10/mode/2up
- Henry Owl master’s thesis, available in Wilson Library: https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb4865980
Chapel Hill native James Cates was murdered by a white supremacist biker gang in 1970 following a dance on campus. After he was stabbed in the Pit, crucial minutes passed before Cates received medical attention, a delay many on the scene attributed to the inaction of local police. Cates’s killers were ultimately acquitted by an Orange County jury. In 1971 students rallied to protest Cates’s killing. In 2019, while the University community continued to debate the toppling of the statue on top of the Confederate monument, student activists installed a plaque commemorating Cates in the Pit. The memorial was soon removed by campus officials.
- Story of James Cates’s life and murder from journalist Mike Ogle, presented in a thread on Twitter: https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1055833113455144962.html
- Re/Collecting Chapel Hill podcast from the Chapel Hill Public Library, Episode 6: James Cates: https://recollectingchapelhill.fireside.fm/james-cates
- “How the Law Used to Keep Silent Sam Up is Being Used to Defend the James Cates Plaque.” Daily Tar Heel, February 14, 2019: https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2019/02/memorials-removal-0213
Zora Neale Hurston
In the mid 2010s, UNC student and faculty activists urged campus administrators to rename Saunders Hall for author Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston had a brief connection to UNC through playwright and faculty member Paul Green. Hurston visited campus many times in the late 1930s. She spoke at a drama conference on campus in 1939 and participated in a playwrighting workshop with UNC students at Green’s house. The UNC Board of Trustees ultimately removed Saunders’s name from the building, but neglected to honor Hurston, choosing the new name of Carolina Hall.
- “‘Proving a Secret is Difficult'”: Zora Neale Hurston at UNC.” For the Record blog, April 2019. https://blogs.lib.unc.edu/uarms/2019/04/16/proving-a-secret-is-difficult-zora-neale-hurston-at-unc/
- “UNC Students Gather for Opening Ceremony of ‘Hurston Hall’,” Daily Tar Heel, September 18, 2015. https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2015/09/unc-students-gather-for-opening-ceremony-of-hurston-hall
- “MFA Candidate Jeanine Tatlock Produces Plaque for ‘Zora Neale Hurston Hall.'” https://art.unc.edu/2017/03/mfa-candidate-jeanine-tatlock-produces-plaque-for-zora-neale-hurston-hall/
- Cecelia Moore, The South as a Folk Playmakers, Regional Theatre and the Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939. Ph.D. Dissertation, UNC-Chapel Hill, 2013. https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCETDnc580n33h
Wilson Swain Caldwell was a 19th-century educator, public official, and university employee. He was enslaved by UNC President David Lowry Swain and was the son of November Caldwell, who was enslaved by the first university president, Joseph Caldwell. After the Civil War, Caldwell helped to found schools for Black students and became the first African American elected official in Orange County when he was elected Justice of the Peace. After the end of Reconstruction and the establishment of Jim Crow laws restricting opportunities for Black North Carolinians, Caldwell returned to UNC to work as the head janitor on campus. He is memorialized, along with his father and two other enslaved workers on campus, by an obelisk in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.
- “Finding Wilson Caldwell: The Study of Slavery at UNC.” Carolina Alumni Review, January 2020. [Online access available to General Alumni Association members.]
- “Honoring an Unsung Legacy.” University Communications, 27 February 2017. https://www.unc.edu/discover/honoring-unsung-legacy/
- Kemp P. Battle, Sketch of the Life and Character of Wilson Caldwell, 1895. https://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/items/show/3640. [Note: This account by University President Battle uses condescending language and may not be reliable in its account of Caldwell’s words and thoughts, but it is useful for learning some of the details of Caldwell’s life.]
Elizabeth Brooks and Mary Smith
Elizabeth Brooks and Mary Smith were UNC employees and activists. While working at Lenoir dining hall in the late 1960s, Brooks and Smith advocated for improved pay and working conditions for food service workers at UNC. When these demands were not met, they led a strike that drew the attention of campus and state leaders and ultimately resulted in a change in supervision, improved pay, and the establishment of a statewide minimum wage. After UNC outsourced food service to a private company and working conditions failed to improve, Brooks and Smith were active in a second strike. Their efforts, in collaboration with members of the Black Student Movement and other campus allies, have served as an inspiration for future generations of activists and campus workers as they continue to work toward improved pay and treatment for the University’s front-line employees.
- Research Guide: Student Protest Movements at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Food Workers’ Strike (1968-1969). https://guides.lib.unc.edu/c.php?g=248685&p=1694843
- Southern Oral History Program: University of North Carolina Foodworkers’ Strikes. Includes interviews with strike participants (including Elizabeth Brooks and Mary Smith). https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/search/collection/sohp/searchterm/E.4.%20Labor:%20University%20of%20North%20Carolina%20Foodworkers’%20Strikes/field/projec/mode/exact/conn/and/order/creato!date!title/ad/asc/cosuppress/1
- Digital exhibit: “The BSM and the Foodworkers’ Strike.” https://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/exhibits/show/protest/foodworker-essay
- WUNC, The State of Things, “Bringing to Life the Voices of the UNC Food Worker Strike.” https://www.wunc.org/post/bringing-life-voices-unc-food-worker-strike
James Walker, Jr.
James Walker, Jr. was one of the first African American students to attend UNC. A North Carolina native, Army veteran, and alumnus of North Carolina Central University, Walker’s application to attend law school at UNC was initially rejected because of the University’s policy to refuse admission to African Americans. Walker joined the lawsuit that eventually led to the integration of graduate programs at UNC in 1951 and enrolled that summer. While at UNC, Walker fought to integrate social spaces on campus, pushing for the removal of segregated seating in Kenan Stadium and appealing to the Chancellor when university administration refused to allow an integrated dance on campus. After graduation, Walker had a long and successful legal career combined with a continued commitment to Civil Rights activism. In 2019, the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies announced a plan to commission a portrait of Walker, who was the first Black member of the Societies, UNC’s oldest student organization.
- Dialectic and Philanthropic Societies Foundation, James R. Walker, Jr. Portrait Fund. https://www.diphi.org/cause/james-walker-portrait-fund/
- “Remembering James R. Walker, Jr.” video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5H0eefD17k&fbclid=IwAR3yPtj8OXeHyUvPXTloccV-kzo1AVFDLLvyWn1gFP-_Vw2UMPd9Vs2gNwc
- For the Record Blog: “I have made footprints around the world defending a free society.” https://blogs.lib.unc.edu/uarms/2016/05/03/from-the-archives-james-walker-to-robert-house-i-have-made-footprints-around-the-world-defending-a-free-society/
- “Law School First – The African Americans Who Integrated UNC-Chapel Hill.” Digital exhibit from the UNC Law Library: https://integration.law.unc.edu/
- James R. Walker, Jr. Recordings, 1990-1996, Wilson Special Collections Library: https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05806/
slayton evans, jr.
Slayton Evans, Jr. was the first African American faculty member in the Department of Chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill. A native of Mississippi and alumnus of Tougaloo College, Evans was hired at UNC in 1974 and remained on the faculty until he passed away in 2001. He was named Kenan professor of Chemistry in 1992. Evans developed a reputation as an outstanding teacher and mentor and earned multiple university and professional awards throughout his career.
- “Slayton Evans, Jr.: A Pioneering Black Chemist.” https://email@example.com/slayton-evans-jr-a-pioneering-black-chemist-53131ad760cc
- “Evans Wins BOG Award.” University Gazette, 12 May 1999. http://gazette.unc.edu/archives/99may12/file.8.html
- “Carolina’s first African-American chemist
honored with lecture fund.” Carolina Connections, Fall 2003. http://givingpubs.unc.edu/documents/carolina_connections/archives/fall2003/evans.html