'Trying to forget history'? Auburn history prof advocates renaming buildings

A history professor at Auburn University created a map of campus that details buildings named after white supremacists and Confederate figures.

The map asks students to help achieve the goal of renaming the buildings.

Auburn University Assistant History Professor Kate Craig created a map detailing buildings “named after men and women who actively sought to uphold white supremacy at Auburn and beyond.” The map calls on students to sign petitions to rename them.

One critic, however, questioned whether doing so would cause some to “forget history.”

The virtual map, which is entitled “(Dis)Placing White Supremacy at Auburn University,” was created by Craig in partnership with a recently formed group, Auburn Students and Community for Change, whose mission is to “provide a platform for local Black voices, show solidarity, and demonstrate why matters of institutional racism and policing are relevant to our community.”  

“When a building is named for someone, it is an act of public celebration and honor.  It says something about what we value,” Craig told Campus Reform.

Among the ten buildings, there are several notable or iconic buildings on campus mentioned. Samford Hall, the iconic clock tower that serves as the face of Auburn, was named after William J Samford, a Confederate soldier. 

“His father, William F. Samford was a slaveholder at ‘Sunny Slope’ and a leading Alabama secessionist, ‘the penman of secession,’” notes the map. “His activities helped make Auburn a leading pro-secession town in Alabama.”

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Also on the map is the historic Langdon Hall, the oldest building on Auburn’s campus. 

“Charles Langdon was pro-slavery, supported the Confederacy, and unsuccessfully ran for the Confederate Congress in 1863, in part on a platform of “raising the black flag” and killing Union prisoners,” the map notes.

Nearly 12,000 individuals supported renaming several other buildings, such as those named after former Alabama Governor George Wallace on a Change.org petition.  

“Alabama will certainly never forget George Wallace and his impact on this state— there are many, many books that will allow us to remember and think about his legacy, especially his opposition to the Civil Rights Movement and the integration of schools and universities in Alabama,” Craig said.

This call for change at Auburn follows on the heels of the University of Alabama’s recent call for the renaming of buildings with “racist namesakes” by Student Government Association President Demarcus Joiner. 

Craig also sees a disparity in the way that the United States celebrates history, saying “there are, for example, no buildings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo named for Belgian King Leopold II — yet his actions in torturing and murdering millions of Congolese men, women, and children permanently shaped the history of the DNR.”

This same sentiment is not held by all students at Auburn University, however. Auburn student Brady Finch told Campus Reform that while he “didn’t realize so many buildings on Auburn’s campus were named after people connected to the Civil War/white supremacy,” he doesn’t think renaming them is the best course of action.

[RELATED: U Washington students publish map to highlight school’s racist history]

“Not saying it makes it any more right, but everyone has actions from their past they may not be proud of,” he added. “I think by renaming it we’re trying to forget history. Isn’t that the whole point of history? To remember the bad things to never let them happen again?”

“I definitely could see renaming some buildings, but to rename them all and erase history would not be the best thing to do,” Finch said. “I think all of this reforming starts in the heart of the people, and I think by trying to rename buildings would harden the hearts of so many people.”

This is not the first time such a map has been created. 

Students at the University of Washington created a similar map that also highlights the school’s “racist history.”

Campus Reform reached out to Auburn Students and Community for Change, for comment but did not hear back in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article: Carter Harris