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January 29, 2015


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Al Brophy

My friend Josh Rothman at the University of Alabama answered this one on twitter. It's Tillman Hall on Clemson's campus. I want to write a little more about the controversy there. Here in Chapel Hill we are in the midst of a discussion about building names -- and as Josh points out, on the Alabama campus there is Nott Hall. I want to talk about that soon, too.

Brant Hellwig

Tillman Hall on the campus of Clemson University. I know only because I continue to read The State newspaper online.

Al Brophy

Nicely done, Brant! This is a really beautiful building. When I think college building, this is what I conjure in my mind. The faculty at Clemson and I guess some students and other people on the campus, too, are asking that it be renamed. It was renamed back in 1946 from Main (or was it Old Main) to Tillman. Senator Tillman had been instrumental in getting funding for the university in the late nineteenth century. I'm looking forward to hearing how the debate on that campus unfolds.


Al, I confess a strong ambivalence as to removing/renaming. Thank you for linking your 2011 paper, by the way. Very interesting and after a first read I am at least no longer sitting directly vertical on my fence. I think I'll let the ideas sink in a week or so and reread.

This: "One way of changing names, of course, is by use" leads me to the humorous imagining of how quickly the regents and state GA might act on the administration's recommended renaming were the students en masse (and with some helpful publicity) to begin uniformly referring to Tillman as "Segregationist's Hall" or some such.

Al Brophy

Thanks for the kind words, CC. Yes, that would be a way of getting some action. There's an episode of name change through prescription.on Vanderbilt's campus. After the Tennessee intermediate appellate court ordered the University to keep the name Confederate on a campus building the university left the name in the stone above the entrance, but on campus maps the hall is labeled just "memorial hall." That's an example of a University administration changin through use. But students can -- and I'd say should if they want to change a name -- get into that act. That's taking matters into their own hands. Moreover, it doesn't involve anything illegal. It's renaming by habits of the users.

Having said that, I have over the years become increasingly skeptical of formal renaming. It seems to me to convert what should be an on-going process of re,embering the past into a rewriting/forgetting of the past. And in a lot of cases I think that too easily absolves all of the participants of the hard work of understanding our shared history.

Glomarization, Esq.

Al, what's your view on the case of King County, Washington? It was originally named for the pro-slavery vice-president of Franklin Pierce, William R. DeVane King. (Pierce County, directly south of King County, was named after that president.) In 2005, after a 1986 county council resolution in 1986 supporting the change, the governor signed into law the official law that re-named the county after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I'm not sure how many people really linked the name of King County to the vice-president, though. Since at least the 1950s the county's official letterhead logo was a crown, a really generic image. I know that for myself, I'd been living there for a few years before someone pointed out to me that the county was named for a person and made the connection for me between King and Pierce.

So, was it truly a renaming, or a not-renaming since the only thing that changed was the logo (now it's a stylized portrait of Dr. King)? Should the county have left well enough alone, since, seriously, Vice-President King arguably never even served? Does King County lose an understanding of history by having Vice-President King legislated out of the letterhead?

Al Brophy

Glomarization, really interesting question and vignette about how historical memory changes.

I'm against renaming as a general matter, especially in cases like that where we've more of less completely forgotten about a person. No one that I know of thinks the name King County as representing in any way the era of slavery. But ... I'm intrigued that you ask about King, because he may have been gay. And therein lies another issue regarding naming and memorialization. I had the pleasure of visiting last year both Sampson County, NC, where King was born (and somewhere I have a picture of the historical marker about that) and also Dallas County, where he lived, died, and is buried. At one point last year when I heard a really terrific talk by Marc Poirier about memorialization of sites important to gay history I suggested we should consider either King's birthplace or grave as a place of memorialization. I think Marc had in mind more places like Stonewall. Anyway, you've now put up another possible site for memorialization or additional interpretation, King County, Washington.

The subtle Vice President King to Civil Rights icon King is nice. Reminds me of Tulsa, which "renamed" one of its streets that it had initially named after a city founder Tate Brady (it was Brady Street) to a street named after Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. Guess what? No change in street signs needed!

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