Auburn’s Board of Trustees and President Jay Gogue renamed Tiger Residence Hall to Holloway Residence Hall in honor of Bessie Mae Holloway.
Bessie Mae Holloway was a graduate of Auburn University and served on the Board of Trustees for 15 years. Holloway received her doctorate in education from Auburn and was appointed as the first Black member of the Board of Trustees where she served from 1985 until 2000. Holloway was also only the second woman to serve on the board. Holloway served as trustee of the 1st Congressional District.
The dedication ceremony took place under a white tent decorated with pots of blue and orange flowers on the Village concourse at 2 p.m. today. The ceremony was attended by members of the board; Holloway's family; prominent members of the Auburn faculty including Athletic Director, Allen Greene; members of SGA and members of the NAACP.
Dr. Bobby Woodard, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, started the ceremony off. Woodard spoke of Holloway's dedication to education and advancing inclusion and diversity as a trustee.
Holloway worked as a teacher and an instructional specialist with the Mobile County Public School System for more than 25 years.
President Jay Gogue, James Pratt and Elizabeth Huntley spoke at the ceremony about Holloway and her accomplishments.
President Gogue spoke highly of Holloway and the reasons why the board unanimously approved renaming the hall for Holloway.
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"The stories that you hear about the students and her, and her devotion to the kids is really what makes her so very special to us at Auburn," he said.
As co-chair of the diversity and inclusion task force, Pratt praised Holloway's efforts on promoting diversity during her time at Auburn.
"With this naming, we celebrate a trailblazer who served Auburn with great distinction for many years and fostered positive changes," Pratt said.
Pratt also referenced the University's efforts moving toward a more inclusive campus calling the day "historic."
"With this naming, we also reaffirm the devotion to the ideals of the Auburn Creed as we continue the longterm, deliberative work toward advancing and promoting opportunity and equality," he said.
Huntley spoke about Holloway's career as an educator and her commitment to students. Huntley, who got to know Holloway on a personal level, said she believes naming a residence hall after Holloway is fitting because of the safe space she provided for students.
"She represented a place where students could feel safe to express themselves and talk about their concerns," Huntley said. "A home does that for you, right, it's sort of the place you go where you find that."
Huntley said Holloway was active in student issues often staying late from trustee meetings, visiting Black Student Union meetings and SGA meetings.
"I mean who does that, she was truly a student's trustee and not just with the Black student issues," Huntley said. "She invited all students to be apart of the Auburn Family."
Together, Pratt and Huntley presented a resolution to Holloway's nephew, Norman Vivians who accepted on her behalf.
Councilwoman Stephani Johnson-Norwood from the City of Prichard, where Holloway was a lifelong resident, spoke last. She presented Holloway's nephew with a proclamation from the City of Prichard.
Johnson-Norwood spoke of the adversity Holloway faced growing up during segregation.
"She went to Council Elementary which was an all-Black school, and she graduated from Central High school which was all Black," Johnson-Norwood said. "And it was difficult for African Americans to continue onto college, but she went."
Holloway attended Alabama State University, which is an historically Black college. Johnson-Norwood said she attended ASU because Holloway could not go anywhere else. Holloway then attended Xavier University of Louisiana, another HBCU, for her master's degree.
"But how about when our systems opened up the universities so you could go anywhere she wanted to, she chose Auburn," Johnson-Norwood said. "She became an Auburn Tiger, and you all should be very proud of that."
Johnson-Norwood said she was most impressed by Holloway's ability to make a name for herself, so much so that George Wallace appointed her to the Board of Trustees.
Holloway was elected to the board by then Gov. George Wallace, a staunch segregationist who touted the infamous, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" and blocked Black students from registering at the University of Alabama.
Auburn's graphic and industrial design building is named for Wallace. A petition to change the name was put forward after the University posted a response to the death of George Floyd that many felt was a lackluster attempt at condemning racism. The petition has almost 12,000 signatures, short of its 15,000 goal.
Trustees Huntley and Pratt began a campaign to evaluate the namesakes of Auburn's buildings and structures and name more after Black trailblazers in an effort to promote inclusion and diversity on campus.
"As we were examining our facilities on Auburn's campus, we noticed something," Huntley said. "We did not have one single structure on our campus where the name on the building was an African American student or African American alumni."
Huntley said this fact was first pointed out to her by President Gogue when she joined the board nine years ago. She said it made sense to do something about the names because of where we are as a country.
The first of these dedications was the renaming of the Student Center to the Harold D. Melton Student Center, named for Chief Justice Harold Melton of the Supreme Court of Georgia. Melton was Auburn's first Black SGA President.
"We want to start by doing positive, constructive things and what could be more positive or more constructive than honoring someone that deserves to be honored. In their own right, they deserve the honor," Pratt said.
The Board of Trustees will be renaming a second Village residence hall, Eagle Hall, after Josetta Brittain Matthews, the first Black student to earn a degree from Auburn and the University's first Black faculty member. The unveiling will take place on Wednesday, April 21 at 2 p.m. CST.
After joking about not getting any buildings named after her, Huntley added a tribute to Holloway, who she said paved the way for herself and other Black students, among other accomplishments.
"I hope she's looking down and smiling on this moment. Thank you, thank you to her and her leadership that paved the way for me to have the opportunity that I've had to serve my beloved alma mater, Auburn University," Huntley said.
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