Julissa Catalan, Diversity Inc, May 13, 2014
Students at one of the oldest public education institutions in the country think it’s time for their school to get on the right side of history.
The Real Silent Sam Coalition–a student- and alumni-created organization that hopes “to create honest and public dialogue and provoke critical thought surrounding the monuments and buildings in Chapel Hill”–is behind Rename Saunders, a campaign initiative aiming to change the name of a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill building that honors Ku Klux Klan leader William L. Saunders.
Saunders, a UNC alum and university trustee, was also a Colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
He graduated from the university in 1854 and was a Grand Dragon for the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan by the late 1860s. He went on to serve as North Carolina’s Secretary of State from 1874 to 1891.
UNC-Chapel Hill was established in 1795, and is known as the nation’s oldest public university. University historian Cecelia Moore says the campus reflects the nation’s history, including the racial tensions of that time.
“The Real Silent Sam strives to denounce the invisiblized white-supremacist narratives that undergird UNC,” campaign organizer Omololu Babatunde said in a statement. “By instigating further conversation on alternative histories, we are attempting to address the collective historical amnesia we suffer from as a community.”
Launched April 9, Rename Saunders already has more than 780 signatures on an online petition. Using the hashtag #kickoutthekkk, Rename Saunders is also using social media as a major broadcaster for its initiative.
The Real Silent Sam Coalition is scheduled to meet with the board of trustees later in May.