Letter to the editor from faculty co-chairs of the Richard T. Greener Memorial Committee
As co-chairs of the Richard T. Greener Memorial Committee, we sent this letter to President Caslen and the Board of Trustees this morning. While we are thrilled to see the administration consider changing the name of Sims College, we hope that this is just the first action in a much larger coordinated effort to reconcile our university’s history. We praise the students, faculty, and staff who have worked over the recent years and weeks to confront our university’s complicity and perpetuation of racism and ask that the administration continue to amplify those voices and demands.
June 15, 2020
Dear President Caslen and Members of the Board of Trustees:
We appreciate the sentiments and calls to action in the recent presidential communications to faculty, staff, students, and the wider community concerning various issues of racial justice and discrimination past and present. Recent efforts to confront and understand the historic struggles for racial equality and civil rights on our campus have been commendable, as have efforts to recognize signs of progress from Reconstruction through today.
One such effort was the installation of the statue of Richard T. Greener, unveiled in February 2018 to honor the first African American professor at the University of South Carolina. While the statue pays tribute to Greener’s many individual accomplishments and contributions to the university, it also stands as a symbol of how to reclaim and celebrate history that has been ignored or willfully misrepresented.
However, the Greener monument is only a starting line for the institution’s commitment to ending racial insult, injustice, and ill will. We fully believe that university leadership and the new Historical Commission must now move forward by initiating collaboration with other South Carolina public institutions of higher education in order to repeal the Heritage Act in order to put an end to building names, statues, and other elements that honor historic figures who stood for racism and white supremacy.
But like the erection of Greener’s statue, removing names from buildings is only the beginning of reconciliation and justice. We call on you not only to work to repeal the Heritage Act, but also to do the hard work of asking questions that might bring difficult or divisive answers. The administration must support, incentivize, and encourage students, faculty, and staff to research, share, and discuss the institution’s past in classrooms, publications, public art and historic interpretation, tours, and online.
Last week, the Board of Trustees at Clemson University renamed Calhoun Honors College and reversed its former position on the name of Tillman Hall. These decisions come on the heels of years of coordinated inquiry and reinterpretation of Clemson’s history. Everyone now turns their eyes to the University of South Carolina to see what we, as an institution, are doing.
Richard T. Greener, who now stands as a larger-than-life educator, came to the University of South Carolina in 1873 because he bravely believed in a better world. His bronze statue recognizes his courage and should also inspire us. Let’s get to work.
Co-chairs, Greener Memorial Committee
Christian K. Anderson
College of Education
Lydia Mattice Brandt
School of Art and Design
Katherine Reynolds Chaddock
Distinguished Professor Emerita
College of Education