‘Confederate’ will remain in name of Vanderbilt dorm

A heritage Victory in Tennasee!
‘Confederate’ will remain in name of Vanderbilt dorm
‘Time to move on,’ university says of losing three-year legal fight
Staff Writer – July 11, 2005

The words Confederate Memorial Hall – words that evoke images of slavery for some people and fallen heroes for others – will remain inscribed in stone on a Vanderbilt University building after a three-year legal battle.

Vanderbilt decided not to appeal a state court ruling ordering that the Nashville school either keep the in-scription on the building or pay damages that could have topped $1 million to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, university spokes-man Michael Schoenfeld said yesterday.

The UDC’s Tennessee division raised $50,000 during the Great Depression to help pay for the building, which was part of the former George Peabody College for Teachers at the time, and vigorously challenged Vanderbilt’s plans to remove the name in 2002. Peabody merged with Vanderbilt in 1979.

Schoenfeld said the university, which had hoped to create what it considered a more welcoming environment by taking down a word some find offensive, is dropping the matter and leaving the full name on the 70-year-old residence hall.

"We believed the best option for Vanderbilt at this time was to move on," he said. "Taking on this issue was something important for the university to do, and taking it any further was reaching a point of diminishing returns."

UDC representatives said they were thrilled by the decision, which followed a May 3 ruling by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

"Slavery was terrible, and the Civil War was terrible in terms of the blood shed," said Doug Jones, a Nashville-based attorney for the organization. "But we don’t need to forget it."

Vanderbilt said that simply bringing attention to the issue was a victory, and that the building’s new name in all other official references, Memorial Hall, was taking hold on campus.

The legal fight concerned only the Confederate Memorial Hall inscription on the building’s stone pediment. The Court of Appeals ruled that the inscription must stay up as long as the building does.

The university plans to create an annual lecture series or other educational events to keep issues of race, history, memory and the Civil War on students’ minds, Schoenfeld said.

Dr. Eddie Hamilton, a Nashville physician and Vanderbilt School of Medicine graduate who had offered to give $50,000 to help Vanderbilt remove the name by paying damages to the UDC, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision. He said the university never contacted him about his offer, which he had hoped would inspire other donations.

Hamilton, an African-American, compared Confederate symbols with Nazi swastikas, which he said would not be allowed to stay on a building in Tennessee.

"Slavery was evil, and the Confederacy supported slavery," he said. "For us to be even having a discussion of whether it should come down is inappropriate. But life goes on. We, as a race of people, this is not going to affect us in terms of slowing down our progress."

But Jones and Deanna Bryant, president of the UDC’s Tennessee division, said most of the soldiers honored by Confederate Memorial Hall were not slave owners. They were simply men "trying to defend their homes," said Jones, who is a former president of the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society.

"It’s a victory for the entire South," Bryant, who lives in Franklin, said of the decision to keep the inscription on the building. "Regardless, the War Between the States happened. Just because somebody doesn’t like something, you can’t erase it from the history books."