Last month, JBHE reported that students and faculty at Clemson University had called on the administration to change the name of Tillman Hall, the main building in the heart of the Clemson campus. The building was renamed in 1946 to honor “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, a former governor, U.S. senator, and one of the founders of Clemson University.
But Tillman was also a fervent White supremacist. He grew up on a plantation that had 50 slaves. After the Civil War, he was a staunch opponent of providing education to African Americans. At one point, Tillman remarked, “When you educate a Negro, you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or spoil a good field hand.”
Now, the board of trustees of Clemson University has decided not to rename Tillman Hall. David Wilkins, chair of the board of trustees, said in a statement:
“Every great institution is built by imperfect craftsmen. Stone by stone they add to the foundation so that over many, many generations, we get a variety of stones. And so it is with Clemson. Some of our historical stones are rough and even unpleasant to look at. But they are ours and denying them as part of our history does not make them any less so.
“For that reason, we will not change the name of our historical buildings,” Wilkins continued. “Part of knowledge is to know and understand history so you learn from it. Clemson is a strong, diverse university in which all of us can be proud. That is today’s and tomorrow’s reality and that is where all our energy is focused. It is time to put this issue behind us and move on.”