A History Worth Preserving? Confederate memories linger on campus
Should the University rename campus structures with controversial names?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Morgan Hall is named after a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan member | By Blake Bassett
Founded in 1831, the University of Alabama has weathered various societal, political, and educational changes and has repeatedly been up to the task of reform. The university has withstood invading armies, segregationist stands, and a burned building in the midst of the Vietnam War. History has proven the university to be able to overcome adversity.
However, the same history that makes the Capstone so unique can also stand as a stark reminder of problems in the past. Undoubtedly, various building names and monuments around campus can evoke mixed emotions.
Morgan Hall, which houses the English Department, stands as one of the aforementioned buildings. John Tyler Morgan was a prominent Alabama Senator, Confederate cavalry general, and racial theorist. An article published in the April 2004 edition of the Alabama Review by Thomas Adams Upchurch refers to Morgan as “The most prominent and notorious racist ideologue of his day.” The article describes Morgan’s political attempts at limiting African American suffrage as well as proposing legislation to emigrate former slaves to Africa. Morgan’s view of African Americans can best be expressed in his own words: “The negro is a grateful man. He is a good man. He is not a wise man.”
On the other hand, Morgan was also an advocate of education and helped acquire funding for the University of Alabama. The UA website has its own description of Morgan and the eponymous building, “Morgan Hall is named for John Tyler Morgan, a U.S. Senator from 1876 to 1907 who was regarded as ‘the universally informed Senior Senator from Alabama’ thanks to his reputation as an authority on many subjects.”
However, many students feel the legacy of Morgan should be erased from the University of Alabama. A Facebook group of University students entitled “Rename Morgan Hall” refers to Morgan as “one of the most reprehensible figures in American history and a disgrace to the University of Alabama.” For the group, Morgan’s racist ideology outweighs any historical significance and his memory should not be honored at a respectable university.
Ian Crawford, a junior, feels Morgan Hall should “absolutely not” be renamed.
“You have to take Morgan (and other Confederate figures) as a whole,” he said. “To strip his name from the building that has proudly borne it for nearly a century is to dishonor him and the several generations surrounding him.”
Crawford works for the Tuscaloosa Preservation Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the city’s heritage.
John Tyler Morgan is not the only controversial figure with a building on campus named for him. Graves Hall is named for Alabama governor Bibb Graves, who was a noted Klansman. An article from the Alabama Review by Samuel Webb describes how Graves was a “former grand cyclops of the capital-city Klan.” Although Graves might have only used the Klan for political ends, a grand cyclops of the KKK can evoke feelings of persecution, discrimination, and hate.
The University campus encompasses other buildings and sites besides Morgan and Graves with a racially tied past. A monument to the Confederate soldiers from the University of Alabama stands in front of Gorgas Library in the center of the quad.
To erase their memory from the University, however, would mean trying to forget some of the struggles and triumphs of the University. “To remove names is to remove history,” Crawford argued. “It would be like going to Arlington cemetery and sandblasting names off of tombstones.”
Even if the University tried to rename these buildings, Crawford asked, “Who would be good enough to have a name on these structures?”
As more and more Confederate monuments come under fire across the South, the University will have to grapple with the question of whether any and all history is worth preserving.