USC renames building after Black community leader Celia Dial Saxon

A residential hall at 700 Lincoln Street now bears the name Celia Dial Saxon Hall.

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The University of South Carolina has unveiled a building named after a non-white person for the first time in its 222-year history, The Post and Courier Columbia reports.

A residential hall at 700 Lincoln Street now bears the name Celia Dial Saxon Hall. She was an African American educator and USC graduate born into slavery in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1857. Saxon was emancipated at age six and became one of the first Black students to graduate from South Carolina State Normal School after its opening on the USC campus during Reconstruction, according to the university’s website.

During her 57-year professional career, Saxon taught at Booker T. Washington High School, Benedict College, and what is now South Carolina University, according to The Post and Courier Columbia. Saxon also led literacy programs, free daycare, and housing for orphaned girls as a member of the women’s club community. She was also a longtime treasurer of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, the university’s website says. 

Near the USC dorm, a marker on campus represents Celia D. Saxon Elementary School, named after Saxon in 1930, The Post and Courier Columbia reports. A $4 million public housing project off Harden Street was also named in her honor but it, along with the elementary school, are both long gone, according to The State

Saxon passed away in 1935. Her great-great-granddaughter, Gerri Lewis Hevalow, attended the recent dorm unveiling and gifted the university library with two awards Saxon received, per The Post and Courier Columbia. 

“I can’t describe how proud I am of her. I’m speechless,” Hevalow said, according to The Post and Courier Columbia. “Being able to stand and represent her in such an intimate way … this is truly an honor.”

Located near Colonial Life Arena and the Greek Village, the seven-story Celia Dial Saxon Hall houses 297 students. As The Post and Courier Columbia reports, the dorm naming is the result of a recommendation from the Presidential Commission on University History released in 2021 about renaming 11 campus buildings to include notable Black figures.

A South Carolina law called the Heritage Act gives lawmakers the sole authority to change historic names on public property, meaning the university cannot rename buildings without legislative support, according to The Post and Courier Columbia. However, the dorm was exempt from this law as it had no name prior to the decision to honor Saxon.

Julian Williams, USC’s vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, said Celia Dial Saxon Hall offers “a chance for our community to learn about her legacy,” he shared in an interview, The Post and Courier Columbia reports. 

In addition to the Saxon dorm, the university will honor more Black legacies this year.

This fall, USC plans to unveil a 12-foot bronze statue of Robert Anderson, Henrie Monteith Treadwell, and James Solomon Jr., the three students who integrated the university in 1963, according to USC’s website

Five years ago, the university installed a statue of Richard Greener, the school’s first African American professor, near its library in 2018.

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