Clemson University plans to install three new historical markers on campus to commemorate Native American and African-American contributions to the university’s history, an initial action taken as a history task force created by the Board of Trustees delves into a months-long process to tell the complete history of Clemson.
Clemson’s history task force and the board’s institutional advancement committee approved the plaques in concept Thursday after a historical marker team created by Clemson President Jim Clements proposed three markers to be placed on campus.
One marker would be placed near the Calhoun Agricultural Fields, commonly known as The Bottoms, and would commemorate the role played by Native Americans and enslaved African-Americans in the development of the land that would one day become Clemson’s campus, said trustee David Wilkins, institutional advancement committee chairman.
A second marker would be placed at Woodland Cemetery to commemorate its slave graveyard and the early Calhoun family burial sites, he said.
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A third marker would be placed at Fort Hill to identify slave quarters as well as the convict stockade that housed black state prisoners, including some children, who were used to build the university’s earliest buildings, he said.
The historic plaque task force would approve wording for the plaques with approval by the state department of archives and history before the plaques are installed, Wilkins said.
“This is the beginning, not the end,” of a process to tell the complete history of Clemson, Wilkins said.
Clemson President Jim Clements thanked the task force for its work to properly tell the university’s history.
“When this project is said and done, we need to be able to stand behind it as valid research, and anything we put on these plaques is proper and accurate,” Clements said.
Clemson is not alone in the process to tell its complete history. Other universities, among them Yale, Emory, Brown and Washington and Lee, have undertaken similar studies.
Clements said other university leaders have contacted him regarding similar studies. He said Clemson has an opportunity to get this study right and be seen as a leader in the process of telling the whole story of its past.
Clemson’s Board decided to study its history after pressure from some students that claimed Clemson had “whitewashed” its history. Students marched across campus last January and again this September to call for the university to rename Tillman Hall, the most iconic building at Clemson that’s named for Benjamin Tillman, an avowed racist former governor of South Carolina and U.S. Senator who was one of the founding fathers of Clemson and a lifetime trustee.
Clemson’s Board has called Tillman’s actions and views repugnant, but has not discussed renaming Tillman Hall.