Correction: At one point in this article, George Wallace's speech to civil rights marchers in 1995 is mentioned, though it was not his first public apology. Wallace apologized for his segregationist views in 1979 shortly before Alabama's 1982 gubernatorial election and received much support from black voters in his reelection. Reflecting on the Stand at the Schoolhouse Door, he was quoted as saying, "I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over." Throughout his last term as governor, he made numerous black appointments in state positions, such as two black members in the same cabinet.
Auburn students and community members are calling for the renaming of Wallace Hall through a Change.org petition launched on Wednesday. The facility, which is home to the University’s industrial and graphic design programs, was built in 1984 for the Department of Vocational and Adult Education and named after George Wallace, Alabama’s 45th governor.
Ashley Henton, senior in apparel design, launched the petition with her friend Aahil Makhani, senior in supply chain management, amid nationwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Henton said she and Makhani were compelled to take action after seeing many comments on social media say the building’s name is not representative of the Department of Industrial and Graphic Design.
“I kept seeing more and more posts say, ‘Why is there still a Wallace Hall?’” Henton said. “I agree completely; why is there still a Wallace Hall? [On Wednesday,] I asked Aahil if there was a petition I could sign … and me and him couldn’t find one. I honestly had no idea that I was the first to start one; I’m really surprised that it didn’t happen sooner.”
Wallace served as governor during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and is remembered for his segregationist beliefs of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” His name remains controversial in both state and national history for actions such as the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, where he stood in the way of two black University of Alabama students entering Foster Auditorium on UA’s campus to register for classes in 1963.
Industrial design students say Wallace’s name is not befitting of their program’s building because of his legacy.
“In our [industrial design] group chat, everybody just kinda started talking and said, ‘Here’s this petition, this is what’s happening, this isn’t what we stand for as a program,’” said Caleigh Oxley, senior in industrial design. “As industrial designers, we’re trying to find ways to make the world better.”
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Oxley noted that the building is dedicated to Wallace because he was a strong proponent of vocational studies but said the University at that time was “not connecting it to the racism and sexism that was attached to his name."
Roshani Trivedi, junior in industrial design, said a name change to the building is something she has long desired, but it did not feel achievable for her to campaign for alone.
“As a person of color, it definitely affects me more than it does my white peers,” she said. “I knew that there weren’t going to be that many of my peers that felt the need for it to change. With everything happening now, I feel like it’s a really good time to bring it up. He’s one of the most destructive racists that our nation has seen.”
Others share her long-time sentiments of a new name, like Jade Tate, senior in industrial design, who believes it’s currently “out of date.” She said she didn’t know who to approach or where to go to drum up support for the idea.
“We’re in this building almost every day on a typical school basis,” Tate said. “Therefore, it’s important that the name reflect something of goodness that doesn’t discriminate against anyone.”
Some in the industrial design program hope that if the University changes the facility’s name, it will be more accommodating to students of color who are enrolled in classes that meet there.
“It kinda surprised me that the name of such a prominent racist was still being displayed on the industrial design building,” said Brandon Stephens, senior in industrial design. “Design, as a profession, is all about lifting people up and helping people through the employment of good design and actual change. What we stand for and what we devote our entire lives for as designers is completely antithetical to what George Wallace was about, which was oppressing people.”
In 1995, three years before his death, Wallace expressed regret for his actions to an audience of civil rights marchers in Montgomery, Alabama. However, many Auburn students in 2020, don't believe this excuses his infamous years of segregationist policy.
“I understand that he was someone that said a lot of things and before he died, he said he regretted doing them, but he only said them,” Trivedi said. “He didn’t act upon them in any way. Even in terms of Auburn’s image, having a building named after someone that was so detrimental to the black community and people of color doesn’t represent well on Auburn’s behalf.”
Henton said she believes Wallace forever tarnished his reputation among the black community with his actions against civil rights. Renaming the building, she said, would be a gesture of goodwill from the University to its black students, faculty and alumni.
“If he took back what he said, then for his own personal sake, that is entirely his decision,” Henton said. “He made decisions in his time as governor that were extremely damaging to people and the [black] community that later in his life saying, ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ it’s not that easy. He did these things, and it would take a lot more than him saying, ‘My bad.’”
The College of Architecture, Design and Construction’s school council held a meeting on Thursday with Vini Nathan, dean of the CADC, after becoming aware of the online petition. Lizz Campbell, senior in graphic design and president of the CADC school council, said Nathan was in favor of the move and will be bringing it before Bobby Woodward, vice president of student affairs.
“Our dean is very strong about keeping the justice in this school,” Campbell said. “She wants students to push things that they’re passionate for, and this is something she is passionate about. She’s contacted the provost, student affairs, SGA, all the people she needs to figure out who we need to go after to get this name change process started.”
Campbell previously served as a Camp War Eagle counselor when she was an ambassador of the CADC. She remarked that counselors were never really instructed to explain the background behind the name of Wallace Hall during orientation tours, unlike other buildings.
“For every other building on campus, we’ve always gone into the history of the person we named it behind,” she said. “We just never really learned a ton about the background of Wallace, and now that I have, I’m honestly extremely disappointed that no one’s changed it.”
As possible alternative names, Campbell said the CADC is considering “someone that has a big involvement within CADC and that stands for all the things the Auburn Creed stands for.” Some students, like Oxley, already have people in mind they’d like to rededicate the building to.
“Walter Schaer, who taught so many of our current faculty, was an Ulm School graduate, a fantastic design program,” Oxley said. “He or [Eva] Pfeil — she was an Auburn woman who graduated from the Ulm School as well. These two people built the industrial design program from the ground up.”
The push to rename Wallace Hall has also inspired petitions for other areas of campus to be considered, like Bibb Graves Amphitheatre, because of their namesakes’ notorious histories. The outdoor venue was named after David Bibb Graves, Alabama’s 38th governor, who received a secret endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan and is said to have been president of its Montgomery, Alabama chapter.
As of writing, the Wallace Hall petition has over 10,100 signatures while the Bibb Graves Amphitheatre campaign has just over 800 signatures, with both steadily climbing.
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