Panel discusses Nott Hall name change

Panel discusses Nott Hall name change

CW File

Why Nott?

This was the question at the center of a panel held in Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library on Tuesday, Sept. 6, which discussed the controversial name attached to Nott Hall.

The building was named after Josiah Clark Nott, a prominent figure in Alabama's medical field. He was known for advancing knowledge about yellow fever, raising medical practice standards in the state and establishing the Medical College of Alabama in Mobile.

However, throughout Nott’s career, he promoted the belief that different races were not members of the same species. This belief culminated in Types of Mankind, an academic work that Nott contributed to, which served as a scientific justification for racism and slavery.

The panel, hosted by the Honors College Assembly in association with the Crimson Chapter of the Southern Poverty Law Center On Campus and the Blackburn Institute, consisted of Alfred Brophy, professor at Law at UNC Chapel Hill, Hilary Green, assistant professor of History in the department of Gender and Race Studies and Thomas Herwig, Assistant Professor of Religious studies. John Giggie, associate professor of History and African American Studies, served as the panel's moderator.

Each panelist spoke to the the audience of students and faculty about the problems of naming a building after someone with views outside accepted modern social norms. Solutions for renaming buildings and placing these people for which they are named in a better historical context were also discussed.

Green, who has studied Josiah Nott extensively, voiced her concerns about seeing his name on the Hall.

“He denied newly freed African-American slaves an education,” Green said. 

Green also read Nott’s words directly, which stated that he would rather see the state's medical school burned down then for it to be used to teach African-American students.

While the panel did not call for any specific action, it sought to promote discussion about how society acknowledges history without celebrating outdated ideals. Brophy explained that it was more important to understand who these people were and place them in a proper historical context than to remove them completely. When discussing the complete removal of names, Brophy said “I believe it facilitates forgetting.”

The panel closed with students asking the speakers various questions, and with many students discussing their hope for proper historical acknowledgment in the future.

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