Wake Forest University pauses building renaming after rejection from Black alumni

Black alumni reject new name, saying it adds fresh pain to a traumatic legacy when slave auction proceeds established the college's first endowment

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When Wake Forest University’s president announced a new name for a building honoring a slave-owner, he framed it as part of the school’s ongoing effort to come to terms with its antebellum past. But the name chosen by trustees — “May 7, 1860 Hall” — has been rejected by Black alumni, who said it adds fresh pain to a traumatic legacy.

Now the school in North Carolina says it’s pausing its work to rename Wingate Hall following objections from The Association of Wake Forest University Black Alumni, which sent a protest letter to university president Nathan Hatch, saying its leaders had been excluded from the decision-making process, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

May 7, 1860 is the date when Washington Manly Wingate, as the school’s fourth president, presided over the sale of 16 enslaved men, women and children who had been left to Wake Forest in a planter’s estate. The college established its first endowment with the $10,718 in proceeds from the slave auction.

Wingate Hall on the campus of Wake Forest University in Wake Forest, North Carolina. (via Wake Forest University)

“By renaming this building, we acknowledge the University’s participation in slavery, recognize this aspect of our history and remember those who labored at the institution against their will,” Hatch said in a May 7 message to university community. “We hear their stories, learn their names and honor what they endured for our institution.”

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But the new name “angered and dismayed” the Black alumni group, which said the date ”stands as a day of trauma for the individuals who were ripped from their families, and represents a day in history where Black people were sold in a transaction that benefited the university.”

So in a new message, Hatch said university officials appreciate “those who questioned our decision and asked us to pause and reconsider the full impact of this name.”

“We have heard particularly from some Black students, for whom Wake has felt unwelcoming, that the name, ‘May 7, 1860’ on a campus building would further alienate or traumatize them,” Hatch said.

This May 21, 2018 file photo shows the Wake Forest University commencement on Hearn Plaza, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP, File)

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Hatch said he asked Donna Edwards, a 1980 graduate and a former Maryland congresswoman, and Vice President Jose Villalba to chair a committee focused on clarifying the objectives in selecting a name for Wingate Hall, and collecting and understanding the entire community’s concerns, reactions and suggestions for a new name.

The committee will complete its work by June 30, the date Hatch is scheduled to retire.

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