The University must acknowledge its own history, good and badBy Mark Hammontree | 10/19/2014 9:02pm
The University of Alabama, like the state and region it’s located in, has a history almost as complex, confusing and, at many points, upsetting as the state’s constitution. Only the naïve would think the darkest parts of the University’s past are the Mike Shula or J.B. Whitworth eras in football.
Sure, we’d all like to just forget about Dennis Franchione, Mike Price and Mike Shula altogether, but time has seen other, much more serious events brushed under the rug, behind that six-year losing streak to Auburn from the early 2000s.
They’re not listed on any promotional materials, they’re not delivered in the white-washed monologues of the Capstone Men and Women and they’re not immortalized on bronze plaques. In most cases, these stories are not acknowledged in any way by the University, and only those who know where to look are able to see the full history of the Capstone.
Last year, The Crimson White published an article about the history behind some of the building names we’ve all heard 10 times a day. Morgan Hall, for example, is named after John Tyler Morgan, a U.S. Senator and Confederate veteran, who helped champion the construction of the Panama Canal but also championed laws that would have made lynching legal in the United States.
Certainly Morgan’s impact on the University cannot be discounted; he was largely responsible for the University receiving reparations for the Union Army’s torching of the campus during the Civil War. But Morgan allegedly becoming a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan is an important part of the story of the man behind the building I have class in four times a week.
Perhaps most infamous among those whose names circle the Quad is Josiah Nott whose name now houses the Honors College. Nott founded the Medical College of Alabama and was virulently racist in his theories and research, once writing that black people achieve “greatest perfection, physical and moral, and also greatest longevity, in a state of slavery.”
I do not mean to imply that every building on campus has been named after a monstrous racist, and it certainly is important to note how attitudes and thankfully scientific fields have changed since the 19th century. Certainly there are names on campus very much worth being proud of. Julia Tutwiler, an advocate of prison reform and the person who opened the door for women to be admitted to the University, is remembered seemingly on every other building.
I’m also not advocating for the names of Nott or Morgan Hall or any other buildings to be changed. The University cannot run from its history, nor should it. But students, faculty members and visitors all have a right to know the whole story, not just the recruitment information we spout to tours of high school students. By looking back at our history, we can better determine how far we’ve come, and more importantly how far we still have to go.
We need to have conversations about going to class in a building named after a Grand Dragon of the KKK. We need to have conversations about how to present our history in a way that doesn’t hamper the future or harm the present. We can’t pretend like none of it ever happened. This University has seen the best and worst parts of the South over the last 200 years, and it’s both sides that have to be addressed today.
Mark Hammontree is a junior majoring in secondary education – language arts. His column runs weekly.