Horton Residence Hall Dedication to Honor Slave and Poet

The dedication Monday of the George Moses Horton Residence Hall will mark the first time that a building at Carolina has been named in honor of a slave. Horton Hall also is believed to be the first university building in the nation to carry a slave’s name.

Horton Residence Hall, formerly Hinton James North, honors a slave and poet from Chatham County. Three commemorative panels featuring two of Horton’s poems and his biography will be unveiled at the dedication, set for 4 p.m. Monday. The framed panels later will be displayed in the lobby of the residence hall. Horton Residence Hall is at the corner of Manning and Bowles drives on South Campus.

Trustees Chair Nelson Schwab ’67, Chancellor James Moeser and English Professor Trudier Harris will deliver remarks.

“Mr. Horton was a remarkable human being,” Dick Richardson, former provost and current chair of the University naming committee, wrote in his recommendation for the naming in 2006. “Two hundred years ago, a special person walked this tree-lined campus and was ultimately embraced by the students. It is time for us to do the same as well.”

Horton, who records indicate was likely born in 1797 and died in 1883, taught himself to read and write while enslaved in Chatham County. When his master permitted him to rent his own time and travel to Chapel Hill, Horton earned money by writing romantic poetry for University students, who would pay 25, 50 or 75 cents for his works.

Although Horton’s plan to buy his freedom through poetry never succeeded, his writing was widely circulated. His first published poem, Liberty and Slavery, appeared in a Massachusetts newspaper in 1828 and made him a nationally recognized antislavery poet. A year later, he became the first black person to publish a book in the South when a Raleigh publishing company released a volume of his poetry titled The Hope of Liberty. Horton saw two more collections of his poetry into print in his native state before he was liberated in 1865. His poetic protests of his status were the first ever published by a slave in America.

Horton traveled to Philadelphia in 1866. He may have emigrated to Liberia later that year or – according to another account – spent his last days in Philadelphia writing Sunday school stories and working for old North Carolina friends who lived in the city. Details of his death are unrecorded.

The largest collection of Horton’s manuscripts and letters is stored in the North Carolina Collection in the University’s Wilson Library. Items from the Horton collection are among the holdings featured in the University’s virtual museum, unveiled in 2006.

Built in 2002 at Manning and Bowles drives, the George Moses Horton Residence Hall accommodates 276 students. The coed living area features suite-style rooms with interior corridor access, central air conditioning and other amenities. The building also features classroom space on its first floor.

Parking is limited near Horton Hall. Members of the campus community attending Monday’s dedication are encouraged to walk to the event. Those driving to the event are advised to park in one of two public pay parking decks, each several blocks from the dedication site. Those decks are the Dogwood Parking Deck, three blocks west of Horton Hall on Manning Drive, across the street from UNC Hospitals; and the Rams Head Parking Deck, north of Horton Hall and Manning Drive on Ridge Road.

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