Clemson has placed 11 signs in front of historical buildings on campus, following through on a plan to further inform visitors and students of the university's history.
In July 2015, Clemson's Board of Trustees voted to create the Task Force on the History of Clemson. The task force — made up of seven board trustees — promised to find ways to tell Clemson's "complete" history.
That history includes acknowledging the lives of slaves who lived and worked at the Fort Hill plantation — home of Clemson founder Thomas Green Clemson — as well as the work by African-American convict laborers that went into constructing campus buildings such as Tillman Hall.
Trustees agreed historical plaques would be a good vehicle for the university to address Clemson's full history.
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This month, the university announced the placement of the 11 historical markers in front of historically significant buildings on campus. The 11 buildings — Fort Hill (National Historic Landmark), Trustee House, Tillman Hall, Hardin Hall, Godfrey Hall, Holtzendorff Hall, Mell Hall, Sikes Hall, Long Hall, Riggs Hall and Sirrine Hall — are all on the National Register of Historic Places.
The sign in front of Tillman Hall reads, in part, "It was completed in 1893, constructed by a predominately African-American convict labor crew using lumber from area trees and bricks that they made."
Tillman Hall — renamed in 1946 to honor Benjamin Tillman, an outspoken racist, lynching advocate and South Carolina governor in the late 1800s — has been the subject of controversy on Clemson's campus.
In 2015, after nine African Americans were murdered at a Charleston church by a white supremacist, 10 previous presidents of Clemson's faculty senate wrote to the Board of Trustees asking trustees to consider reinstating Tillman Hall's original name, Old Main.
Clemson acknowledged this request and later established the history task force. Tillman Hall's name has not been changed.
Signs in front of other academic buildings — Sikes, Godfrey and Hardin halls — make brief mention of the African-American convict laborers who built them, but one sign in particular stands out. It commemorates the Fort Hill plantation site, which was also home to the family of Thomas Green Clemson's father-in-law, John C. Calhoun, in the 1800s. It is the only sign to mention the slaves who lived there.
It reads, in part: "By the end of the Civil War, 139 enslaved African-Americans worked the plantation, and African-Americans continued to be a vital force in Fort Hill operations, primarily as sharecroppers and domestics, until Mr. Clemson's death in 1888."
Clemson also said the university will place granite markers and rename the traffic circle in front of Tillman Hall after Harvey Gantt, Clemson's first black student. The board voted to rename the parking loop Gantt Circle at a quarterly meeting last July