University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Names of two Tar Heel trailblazers selected for buildings

A residence hall and the Student Affairs office building will bear the names of two trailblazing Tar Heels: Hortense McClinton and Henry Owl, the University announced today.

Upon the recommendation of Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz, the University’s Board of Trustees honored McClinton and Owl with a vote Nov. 4 to add their names to two buildings whose names were removed in July 2020. McClinton Residence Hall replaces the former Aycock Residence Hall, while Henry Owl Building is the new name for the former Carr Building.

“Both Mr. Owl and Professor McClinton are deeply rooted in the history of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Naming these buildings for each of them distinguishes them as people of impact on our campus,” said Board of Trustees Chair David L. Boliek Jr.

The black metal signs with the new names are ready to be installed.
The black metal signs with the new names are ready to be installed.

Following today’s announcement, black metal signs with the new names will be installed in front of both buildings. New letters spelling out “McClinton” will be added to the residence hall as well, but the etching of “Henry Owl” into the stone over the entrance to the Student Affairs building will take longer.

The names of these Tar Heel trailblazers add diversity to the landscape and advance the first Carolina Next strategic initiative, Build Our Community Together, by promoting belonging throughout the University community.

“Hortense McClinton and Henry Owl were trailblazing pioneers who left an indelible legacy at Carolina. They embody the values that define our University, and naming these buildings after them marks an important step in building a campus community where everyone feels that they belong and can thrive,” said Guskiewicz.

McClinton was the first Black professor hired at Carolina, accepting an appointment with the UNC School of Social Work in 1966 and retiring in 1984. At age 103, she now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. The committee that nominated her for the honor pointed out that McClinton “overcame the obstacles of a Jim Crow society and distinguished herself as a pioneer in desegregating the social work profession.” She was also “lauded nationally for teaching the knowledge and modeling the skills that prepare social workers to practice ‘without racial and cultural basis,’” the committee wrote.

“I am very much honored. I’m glad they’re doing it before I died because I am 103,” McClinton said. Growing up in an all-Black community in Oklahoma and in a family who valued education formed the person she became. “My father went to college. My grandmother went to college. And now there have been six generations of us that have been to college. I appreciate everything that has happened in my life. I have been a lucky girl.”

Owl (1896-1980) was the first American Indian and the first person of color to enroll at the University, as a graduate student in history in 1928. The nominating committee cited these achievements by Owl:

Authored a study of Cherokee history, told from a Cherokee perspective, that challenged the racist myths of white settler colonialism.
Fought courageously for Cherokee Indians’ civil rights.
Served as an educator in Indian reservation schools and as a counselor to Indian veterans of World War II.
“This is an honor that he would have been very pleased to get. He felt so strongly about education, so he would take a great deal of pride in having his name on a building there at UNC,” said Owl’s daughter, Gladys Cardiff of Seattle, Washington. “What this does for UNC is that it makes Native students across the country aware that they will be welcomed there, that they will be valued in a special way. It is the perfect building for him.”

HONORIFIC NAMING PROCESS 1. Honorific Naming Registry received nominations online during a two-week window (March 26-April 9, 2021) 2. Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Naming University Facilities and Units vets names based on guidelines 3. Chancellor submits recommendation 4. Board of Trustees considers and votesNames from the registry
The chancellor’s selection of McClinton and Owl from a list provided by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Naming University Facilities and Units is the latest step in the University’s reconsideration of the names on its buildings.

The process includes the Board of Trustees’ decision in June 2020 to lift a 16-year moratorium on removing names from campus buildings and in July to establish a policy for the removal of names from buildings. Later in July 2020, the board voted to remove the names Charles Brantley Aycock, Julian Shakespeare Carr, Josephus Daniels and Thomas Ruffin Sr. from buildings on campus.

The removal of the names came just months after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the March 2020 pivot of the University to online learning. As the pandemic continued, the University had to deal with the ongoing health crisis, with faculty and students adjusting to online and hybrid classes and staff working on campus and remotely to keep the University running.

As Carolina prepared for a full-scale return to campus for fall 2021, administrators wanted to set a more welcoming tone with new building names that added diversity to the landscape.

To kickstart the renaming process, Guskiewicz announced the launch of an online Honorific Naming Registry and an open call for nominations in March.

“We want these names to represent the values of our campus and quickly become part of the fabric of our community,” Guskiewicz said. “I am grateful for the students, faculty and staff who have advocated for change. I am confident that we have plenty of worthy honorees who have been instrumental in our shared history.”

During the nomination window, the Carolina community submitted more than 1,100 names for consideration.

Guskiewicz then charged the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Naming University Facilities and Units to narrow the list, giving more weight to the honorees who best:

Represent the values that define the University: excellence and an unwavering commitment to teaching, research and public service.
Have traditionally been underrepresented on Carolina’s landscape.
Have a demonstrated positive impact on Carolina’s campus and community.
The committee selected the names of McClinton and Owl high on their list of honorees. The chancellor submitted these two names to the Board of Trustees as replacements for two of the formerly unnamed buildings. The trustees acted on the recommendation at the Nov. 4 meeting.

BUILDING NAME REMOVAL PROCESS 1. Chancellor receives written request 2. Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward Investigates and recommends 3. Chancellor’s Committee to Review History Commission Resolution reviews and advises 4. Chancellor submits recommendation 5. Board of Trustees considers and votesOngoing process
Meanwhile, the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward continues to research the backgrounds of other historic figures whose names may be considered for removal in the future.

An ad hoc committee selected by the chancellor (Chancellor’s Committee to Review History Commission Resolution) is in the process of reviewing the commission’s most recent recommendation, a list of 10 historic University figures with ties to white supremacy, the Confederacy and slavery.

The committee has met several times to discuss the historical evidence presented by the commission in the form of individual dossiers. The Board of Trustees policy guiding their discussion requires them to consider “scholarly historical evidence” of serious violations of federal or state law or “repugnant behavior.” Mitigating factors include “especially noteworthy” contributions to the University by someone whose views were “conventional at its time” or the person’s significant moderation of offensive views and behavior.

After their review of the materials, the committee will recommend to the chancellor the names its members believe should be removed. The chancellor will consider these recommendations and then pass his recommendations on to the trustees, who make the final decision on any name removals.