“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.
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.
After students called for the university to rename the building, in February 2015, David Wilkins, chair of the board of trustees, said that the name of the building would not be changed. At that time, Wilkins stated that “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.”
But this did not put the issue to rest. Recently, graffiti was written on two adjoining outside walls of the building. The spray-painted graffiti read: “Rename Tillman Hall” and “Stop Honoring Tillman.”
Cathy Sams, the chief public affairs officer at Clemson University, said that “we understand that there are strong opinions about Tillman, but vandalism of a historical property is a crime and we have to treat it as such.”