The board of trustees voted on Jan. 7 to rename a residence hall after Celia Dial Saxon, one of USC's first female graduates and a lifelong educator and activist. This marks the first time a campus building will be named after a person of color.
The residence hall located at 700 Lincoln St., currently called 650 Lincoln, will be formally dedicated after Saxon in a public ceremony, according to a USC press release.
“Today’s proposed action is one step in a longer journey to fulfill the university’s responsibility to its rich and diverse population,” Dorn Smith, chairman of the board of trustees, said.
700 Lincoln is located in what was once called Ward One, a predominantly African American neighborhood that was displaced by the university in the 1960's, according to The Post and Courier. The university built the Darla Moore Business School, Koger Center, Carolina Coliseum and other university buildings on the land, according to Pastides.
Saxon lived and taught in Ward One, according to Smith.
Interim university President Harris Pastides said renaming 700 Lincoln was “a step toward continued reconciliation” with the Ward One community and with USC’s history as a whole.
“We can’t alter our history. We can dedicate ourselves to addressing it by recognizing the community members and neighborhoods that were displaced and by mending relationships with those who've been impacted by university decisions of the past,” Pastides said.
Board member and NBA Hall of Famer Alex English, who grew up in the Ward One area, was the one to originally suggest Saxon for the renaming, according to Smith. She was also on the list of names proposed by the Presidential Commission on University History in July, Pastides said.
“I recall that the whole area in that area was an African American community. There was a school, there was a church, there were stores that people visited to get groceries," English said. "I recall very vividly the life that we lived.”
Saxon was born into slavery in Columbia in 1857 and graduated from USC in 1877, according to Bobby Donaldson, director of USC’s Center for Civil Rights History and Research. Saxon was an educator in Columbia for 57 years after graduating, Donaldson said.
Saxon taught at Booker T. Washington High School and Benedict College, according to USC’s website. The auditorium building is still standing on campus today.
She helped found schools and orphanages in the Columbia area. An elementary school named for her stood where the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center is today, according to the website.
She was not only one of the first Black women to attend USC, but one of the first women, according to remarks written by USC professor, Walter Edgar. Saxon was a member of the Executive Committee of the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools and a founder of the South Carolina Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, according to Edgar.