We are UNC Tar Heels. We refuse to honor a KKK leader.

By Andy Platt, UNC Chapel Hill student, guest writer
Here in Chapel Hill, history plays an important role in the lives of University of North Carolina students as well as the residents of the town. Many of UNC’s buildings and landmarks stand as symbols of the state’s rich history and are named after eminent historical figures. But UNC students will no longer let “historical legacy” be used as an excuse for keeping the name of Saunders Hall, named after William Saunders, a known KKK leader. Saunders Hall was built in 1922 as the university’s new history department, and it was decided that it would be named after William L. Saunders, a civil war colonel who compiled historical documents for the state of North Carolina. Saunders was also an alumnus of the university and served both as a member of the university’s board of trustees and as North Carolina’s secretary of state in the late 19th century. However, an important detail of Saunders’ life was overlooked when deciding the building’s name: William L. Saunders was a leading member of the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan faction. In 2015, UNC students revived the effort to rename Saunders Hall in order to eliminate its racist undertone. It is an oft-debated topic that has sparked many discussion panels, protests, and rallies among the students, faculty, and community of Chapel Hill. Some think that the building’s name should be left alone in order to show the reality of both UNC and North Carolina’s histories, a dark reminder of how far we have come in terms of equality. However, most believe that a building named after the “Grand Dragon” of the state’s Ku Klux Klan faction, sitting on the grounds of the oldest American public university — a university largely built by the hands of black slaves — is repugnant. The racist tendencies that survived for so long in the American South were supposedly extinguished decades ago, so why is it acceptable that Saunders Hall remains representative of the prejudiced past? As an alternative, the name Hurston Hall is widely agreed upon. Zora Neale Hurston was a prominent black writer in the mid-1900’s, whose works include the influential 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Before UNC was desegregated, Hurston attended classes as an unofficial student. She garnered 10% of the recent student body president elections as a write-in candidate, a statement of discontent among students who believe Saunders Hall should be renamed. Lengthy discussions have been held by the university’s board of trustees regarding the renaming of Saunders Hall, but the final decision has yet to be made. However, what can be said about the process is that students here at UNC will forever stand by what they believe in. We will not simply be spectators at the university, merely accepting whatever UNC decides. We will push toward making an impact during our time here, engaging in progressive discussions such as the renaming of Saunders Hall, and contributing to the progress of our wonderful school. We are not observers. We are Tar Heels.

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