In light of the deadly shooting of nine worshippers at a historic black Charleston church by a self-described white supremacist two weeks ago, Clemson University faculty have renewed calls for the university to rename its most iconic building, Tillman Hall, which bears the name of a white supremacist governor who was one of the university’s founders.
In two open letters posted on Clemson’s website, 10 past presidents of the university’s Faculty Senate said that renaming Tillman Hall would provide “strong and undeniably symbolic repudiation” of the actions of Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof “and the hatred engendered by individuals such as Mr. Tillman — and their checkered legacy.”
The faculty members said it is past time to rename Tillman Hall and urged the Clemson community to show that it does have an appetite to strip Tillman’s name from the building.
“The recent killings in Charleston dictate that we must make a clear statement that Clemson University is not the place for actions, or symbols, that support, even passively, bigotry and hatred,” they wrote.
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This week, David Wilkins, Clemson’s Board of Trustees chairman, said trustees have no plans to rename the building. It was dealt with it several months ago when he polled members individually and decided not to debate the issue, he said.
Still, the issue could be brought up by any of the 13 trustees at any time, Wilkins said.
Friday, Wilkins declined to offer an immediate response when reached by a reporter of The Greenville News.
Monday, the board voted unanimously to support Gov. Nikki Haley’s call to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds.
That sparked questions from alumni and some on campus why trustees would support that action while not addressing Tillman Hall.
Clemson’s most famous building, a red-brick structure with a clock tower <FZ,1,0,17>that rises front and center at the main campus, is named after Benjamin Tillman, who advocated lynch law as an outspoken white supremacist, enacted Jim Crow laws in the state and was indicted, but never tried, for his role the murder of six black men by a white mob in the 1876 Hamburg Massacre.
Tillman was also one of the original founders of Clemson. He was named as a lifetime trustee in Thomas Green Clemson’s will and was an agricultural advocate as governor when Clemson was founded as a land grant institution.
The faculty members say Tillman’s legacy would be better represented by a plaque or a wall or room in the building that could acknowledge his complete history.
A bronze statue of Tillman that stands on the Statehouse grounds was splattered in red paint by a vandal this week. Tillman’s name appears on memorials and buildings throughout the state, including a main building at Winthrop University.
In their letter, the past senate presidents extended an invitation, and offered assistance, to trustees to hold an open campus forum to allow the board to better gauge the campus views on whether Tillman Hall should be renamed.
No members of the Board of Trustees or any campus administrators attended a previous open forum about Tillman Hall hosted by The Greenville News in April, though they were sent invitations.
The faculty letter says changing the name of Tillman Hall would do more to build the foundation of Clemson’s future than any of the buildings being constructed in the university’s latest building campaign.
The letter says that Clemson’s board has a policy in place to rename buildings. The policy states: “Under extraordinary circumstances when the continued use of the name would compromise the public trust and reflect adversely upon the University, Clemson University reserves the right to rename the building or facility.”
“We believe retaining the name Tillman Hall in honor of an individual whose hatred and fear were expressed in the murder of citizens of South Carolina absolutely reflects adversely upon Clemson University and the Board should exercise its right to rename the building,” they wrote.
The process is complicated by the compromise that legislators — including Wilkins, then the House speaker — passed in 2000 to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse dome.
It requires a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate to change the names of historic buildings on public property in the state.
That act could change as soon as next week as legislators vote whether to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.
The Citadel’s Board of Visitors already has voted to remove the Confederate flag from a prominent display inside its chapel, an action similar to the one Clemson’s trustees would need to take if they chose to address Tillman Hall.
Nine past Faculty Senate presidents co-signed one letter. They are Charlie Gooding, Beth Kunkel, Francis McGuire, Kelly Smith, Kinly Sturkie, Bill Surver, Fred Switzer, Holley Ulbrich and Dan Warner.
In a separate letter, past president Jeremy King said he agreed with the other faculty presidents but offered separate arguments to study the issue and called for Clemson’s administration to establish a commission to research Clemson’s civil rights history as an educational effort that could be made available to the community.