In 1964, Cynthia Roddey enrolled at what is now Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She was the first African American student at the state-operated university. Today, there are 5,000 undergraduate students and 1,000 graduate students at Winthrop University. African Americans make up 29 percent of the undergraduate student body.
Winthrop University has announced that the university’s top academic prize for students will no longer be named after “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, a former segregationist governor of South Carolina and U.S. Senator. Tillman was 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.”
Earlier this year, Clemson University, another state-operated educational institution in South Carolina, decided not to rename Tillman Hall, the main building in the heart of the Clemson campus. Winthrop University also has a Tillman Hall on campus. Changing the names of buildings on state university campuses in South Carolina must be approved by the state legislature.
While Tillman Hall will remain at Winthrop University for now, the university has decided to do away with the Tillman Award and give the President’s Award for Academic Excellence to the university’s top student.