Four academic chairs have proposed that Hamilton Hall be renamed for Pauli Murray, the Durham-raised civil rights activist who was denied admission to UNC in 1938 because of her race.
The chairs of the departments of history, political science and sociology and of the curriculum in peace, war and defense — all headquartered in Hamilton — have asked the University’s Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward to replace the name of J.G. de Roulhac Hamilton, a champion of the study of the South who amassed the materials that became the foundation of Carolina’s famed Southern Historical Collection. Hamilton’s name is on lists of white supremacists for whom campus buildings are named.
“His own research focused on Reconstruction and praised the role of the Ku Klux Klan, arguing that it saved North Carolina from the corrupt and incompetent rule of blacks and carpetbaggers,” according to UNC Libraries.
The UNC trustees in June lifted a moratorium on renaming buildings that had been set to last until 2031, and they are expected to discuss a formal policy for removal of names from buildings this month. A draft of the policy names the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward as one of two task forces to which requests would be referred. UNC has a separate procedure for naming buildings.
Comments of trustees and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz at the June board meeting made it clear that the end to the moratorium was a response to the movement to address racial inequity, which has gained momentum following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
The faculty chairs said their proposal “comes with the support of the faculty from our departments and curriculum, as well as from students and staff for whom our building is a place of work, learning, and scholarship.”
“Our motivation for renaming the building is rooted in the history of our University and Professor Hamilton’s role in shaping it for the benefit of white supremacy. Ample evidence of this history can be found in the brief submitted to us by our building-wide committee tasked with evaluating this decision.”
Although a Murray Hall, named for Kenan Professor of chemistry Royce Murray, already exists on campus, multiple campus structures are named for people who share the same last name.
Pauli Murray, who was African American, left Durham after graduating from high school to attend college in New York, saying, “No more segregation for me.”
She became a civil rights lawyer whose scholarship proved critical to the desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education. She helped write gender equality into the law and went on to co-found the National Organization for Women. Late in her life, she was ordained an Episcopal priest and accepted an invitation to celebrate her first Eucharist at the Franklin Street church that her enslaved great-grandmother had attended. Murray is a saint in the Episcopal Church.
Along the way, the 28-year-old Murray was rejected when she applied to UNC’s graduate program in sociology. State law at the time mandated that UNC admit only white applicants. Later, she appealed to President Franklin Roosevelt to work for desegregation and, as a result, became a confidant of Eleanor Roosevelt. Murray’s ideas also influenced Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Murray was a descendent of one of the University’s original trustees, James Strudwick Smith; her grandmother was fathered by one of Smith’s sons.
“Pauli Murray represents the immutable spirit of scholarship and public service, and she represents the forgone knowledge that UNC could have been a part of, could have supported and nurtured, and could have learned from,” the proposal said. “Naming our building after her will serve as a reminder of what was lost, what could have been, and what can be as we move forward.”
Hamilton Hall opened in 1972 to house the history, political science and sociology departments. A UNC history of the building says of its namesake, “In his reliable Model A Ford, Hamilton traveled a half million miles through the South searching for old letters, manuscripts and other materials for the [Southern Historical] Collection.
“Usually, Hamilton was able to convince people that their old papers would be useful to historians in the Library in Chapel Hill.”