Two state higher education institutions, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University, have been embroiled in student protests cut from the same historical cloth, though the differences in the responses and reactions have been anything but the same. Chancellors Carol Folt (UNC-CH) and Johnson Akinleye (NCCU) have exhibited courage and accommodation at their campuses, respectively.
Folt sacrificed her position after removing the remaining vestiges of Silent Sam, a Confederate symbol of slavery and African American oppression, which stood at the entrance to UNC-CH for more than a century. After tendering her resignation to the UNC System Board of Governors, effective at the end of the spring semester, her departure date was moved to Jan. 31, an act apparently designed to embarrass her.
While attention has focused on Folt and Silent Sam, there is a similar situation at historically black NCCU that begs for comparison, especially in light of the dignity of dissent she displayed. There the students have called for a long overdue title change of the administration building at the entry to the campus named for former Governor and U. S. Senator Clyde Hoey. During the age of Jim Crow, he held NCCU and its founder James Shepard hostage to his positions on segregation and social inequality. NCCU Chancellor Johnson Akinleye has been publicly quiet on the issue, in stark contrast to his UNC-CH counterpart. He owes NCCU alumni and North Carolinians a public statement on precisely where he stands on this matter, leaving no space for ambiguity, rumor, or innuendo.
This is a dilemma facing numerous administrations at majority and minority institutions of higher education. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are under particular scrutiny because their majority-minority student bodies are pressuring their leaders to remove the names of racists and Confederates from buildings, and statues from their campuses.
The NCCU Board of Trustees, which is majority African American, has yet to take a vote on renaming the Hoey Building, though there has been a tepid effort to solicit alumni opinion and to provide information on student opposition. Unlike UNC-CH , where the descendants of those who fought for the Confederacy, and those who identify and sympathize with that cause, oppose the removal of Silent Sam, no constituency exists among NCCU’s alumni or black North Carolinians that contests this change. There is no place on a HBCU campus for a building named for a person like Hoey who, during a speech before the United Daughters of the Confederacy — the same group that conceived the Silent Sam Confederate Memorial — said, “ (N-word) are not entitled to civil rights and will never get them,” and that, “There were no (N-word) on the Mayflower.”
Two years have passed years since the NCCU Student Government Association called for removal of Hoey’s name. The administration’s delay is inexplicable and unsettling. NCCU’s motto coined by its founder, James B. Shepard, is “Truth and Service.” Now that the truth is well known, Shepard is owed the service of NCCU’s Chancellor and Board of Trustees who know what he had to endure as much as what he accomplished. They must lead this initiative, and they should move with immediate dispatch and transparency.
Walter C. Farrell Jr. has been a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has also taught at NCCU. Al-Tony Gilmore is a historian and archivist emeritus of the National Education Association and recently worked as visiting scholar at The George Washington University. Both are NCCU alumni.