“Pitchfork” Ben Tillman was born in 1847. His father owned nearly 50 slaves. After the Civil War, Tillman continued to operate his father’s plantation under conditions that were much the same as before the war. In 1885, Tillman began his political career that focused on denying education to African Americans. “When you educate a Negro,” Tillman said, “you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or spoil a good field hand.”
Tillman served two terms as governor of South Carolina and in 1895 became a U.S. senator. When President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House, Tillman stated that “the action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing of a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again.”
The main building on the campus of Clemson University in South Carolina is named Tillman Hall. Senator Tillman was one of the founding trustees of the university. The building was called Main Building or Old Main until 1946 when it was renamed Tillman Hall.
The executive advisory committee of the faculty senate recently unanimously approved a resolution to rename the building. The resolution was tabled at a full meeting of the faculty senate because only the university trustees have the power to rename a campus building. And that decision must then be approved a two thirds of the state legislature.
A group called A Coalition of Concerned Students at Clemson has protested the name of building saying that it makes them feel “disrespected, uncomfortable, and not welcomed.”