The South Campus dorm adjacent to Hinton James will be named for a 19th-century slave whose sideline as a writer of poetry earned him several superlatives and a notable place in Carolina’s past.
George Moses Horton was the first African-American to publish a book in the South, the first slave to protest his condition in print, the only slave to earn an income from writing and the only poet whose first published work preceded his ability to write.
A slave on a Chatham County farm, Horton was allowed at times to leave on his own, and he regularly walked the eight miles to Chapel Hill, where he made money by writing acrostics for students to give to their sweethearts. He is said to have been a drinking pal of students while also an object of their ridicule. Before he could write he composed poems in his head. Later, he learned to write from reading old spelling books and the New Testament.
Horton spent time on the campus over a 30-year period; by 1830, he was able to live in town, hiring himself out as a laborer.
Former Provost Dick Richardson, who chairs the Committee on Naming University Facilities and Programs, recommended Horton for the honor, writing that “occasionally, we have the opportunity to name something for a deserving figure outside the mainstream.” Campus buildings of the modern era typically are named for major financial donors. Dorms offer the opportunity to step outside that pattern because they are built with self-liquidating bonds, not private money.
The dorm to be named for Horton, now known as Hinton James North, is one of four that opened in 2002. The one south of Morrison will be named for former Chancellor Paul Hardin. Ehringhaus South and Craige North remain unnamed, as do the five apartment-style dorms now under construction.
Richardson had letters of support from Trudier Harris, J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English; Archie Ervin, associate provost for diversity and multicultural affairs; and William Andrews ’70 (MA), E. Maynard Adams Professor of English. The UNC trustees approved the naming on March 23.
Horton’s first collection of poetry, The Hope of Liberty, was published by Joseph Gales, editor of the Raleigh Register. With the support of students and others at the University, Horton later published The Poetical Works of George M. Horton, the Colored Bard of North-Carolina. The UNC Press’s publication of The Black Bard of North Carolina: George Moses Horton and His Poetry is the first modern collection of his work.
As his reputation grew, Horton tried to get UNC President David Swain to hire him away from his Chatham County master so he could stay in Chapel Hill, but Swain declined. Horton is believed to have spent his last years in the northern United States after he befriended a Union cavalry officer who came through Chapel Hill near the end of the Civil War.