That Warm Southern Breeze of Change


The weather at the University of Alabama may not yet be springlike. The ubiquitous flower beds that dot the campus are not bulging with tulips but there’s a warm breeze blowing.

Susan Svrluga has reported in an article in The Washington Post “Calls to change U. of Alabama building name to honor Harper Lee instead of KKK leader” about a petition circulating on campus:

A University of Alabama junior is asking that a building on campus be renamed to honor an alumna, the author Harper Lee, rather than a former senator who was a Confederate general and a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Her petition, which had nearly 2,000 digital signatures within days of being posted online after Lee’s death, joins a growing number of calls at universities across the country to reconsider traditions, names and symbols of the past. It’s part of a national debate over whether things such as building names and statues should be changed if they offend people today, or if doing so would amount to erasing history.

It also comes as activists are demanding change, including renaming other buildings, at the school where Gov. George Wallace made a famous speech barring black students from enrolling at the state flagship university nine years after the U.S. Supreme Court had acted to end segregation in education.

Harper Lee, who died Friday, wrote one of American literature’s most beloved novels, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” about a white lawyer who defends a black man wrongly accused of rape. It was published in 1961, as the Civil Rights movement was growing, two years before Wallace’s speech.

Morgan Hall, which houses the English department on the Tuscaloosa campus, is named for John Tyler Morgan. He was a six-term U.S. senator, a Confederate general and a “grand dragon” of the Ku Klux Klan, said Lisa Lindquist Dorr, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and an associate professor of history at Alabama. Morgan was an ardent proponent of segregation and worked to revoke the right of black people to vote.

University student Jessica Hauger created the petition which reads in part:

Lee was doubtless the University’s greatest contribution to literature, and it would be more than fitting for our English building to bear her name, which reflects so much more accurately the values of the University of Alabama, than that of white supremacist John Tyler Morgan.

Could there be some hope of real change at the Capstone if they rename the building? Who knows? If they can dethrone a Grand Dragon, maybe even  The Machine can be reined in?


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