More than 90 years ago, a Durham-raised Black woman applied to UNC-Chapel Hill to pursue a PhD in sociology. But university officials told her that “members of your race are not admitted to the university.”

That woman was Pauli Murray, who went on to become a powerhouse in the Civil Rights Movement: a writer, an attorney, a priest, and an activist. Her book States’ Laws on Race and Color was called “the Bible for civil rights lawyers” by Thurgood Marshall.

Yesterday, UNC professors paid Murray the due she deserved nearly a century ago.

Professors in UNC-CH’s history, political science, sociology, and “Peace, War, and Defense” departments announced Thursday night that they were beginning the process of changing their building’s name to honor Murray. Professors and grad students have already begun calling the building “Murray Hall.”

“Pauli Murray represents the immutable spirit of scholarship and public service, as she made major contributions to our society in the face of nearly insurmountable resistance,” the faculty and student committee wrote in their proposal. “She also represents a path not taken for UNC at an important point in the history of our disciplines and departments. Naming our building after Pauli Murray will serve as a reminder of what is lost, what could have been, and what can be as we move forward.”

The decision wouldn’t have been an option a month ago. A 16-year moratorium on renaming campus buildings was put in place after Saunders Hall was renamed in 2015, but the moratorium was lifted by the Board of Trustees on June 17.

The five-story building has been named Hamilton Hall since its construction in 1972. Signs and campus documents will continue to use “Hamilton” until the name change is approved by the Board of Trustees.

J.G. de Roulhac Hamilton, the building’s namesake, was an author and historian. He was also a racist whose biases as a white man affected how he studied and wrote about the American South after Reconstruction.

“Called into existence by this state of affairs, the Ku Klux Klan lifted the South from its slough of despond by the application of illegal force which overthrew Reconstruction and ultimately restored political power to the white race,” he wrote in his book, Reconstruction in North Carolina.

Hamilton retired from teaching in 1936, two years before Murray was denied entry to UNC.

Saunders Hall was renamed Carolina Hall after 40 years of activism and with approval from the Board of Trustees. The name given was one picked by the trustees, not the one that activists and faculty asked the board to consider.

UNC’s media relations team told the INDY that the Board of Trustees will work with the History, Race and A Way Forward Commission through that process.” The board has scheduled meetings July 15 and 16.

The decision comes days after the Daily Tar Heel reported on complaints against a UNC sociology professor using “role-playing pedagogy” in his social and economic justice class in the fall semester.

Aneesha Tucker, who initiated the complaint, created a Google Doc detailing her and other students of color’s experiences in classes where white students were expected to portray Black figures in history, as well as other racial microaggressions. She also documents her repeated, futile attempts to get Caren and the university to take action on the complaints. 

Graduate students in the history department are also asking for more. They are petitioning for the department to raise grad student pay and work to make UNC safer for people of color. They included a list of ways the department upholds white supremacy, focusing on their failure to call out systemic racism or change it within the department. 

UNC still has more than 30 buildings named after slaveholders and white supremacists. Murray Hall is the sixth building on campus to be named after a Black person.

“It may seem symbolic,” history professor Katherine Turk tweeted. “But, as our chair @LisaALindsay reminds, symbols convey who we are and what we value. And we’re just getting started.”

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