The Auburn University Board of Trustees unanimously passed a resolution Friday to add a plaque to the wall of Wallace Hall on campus in order to address the problematic history surrounding former Gov. George Wallace, for whom the building is named.
Trustee James Pratt, who is part of a diversity task force commissioned by the board of trustees, told the board that the building that’s received the most requests in terms of potential renaming is Wallace Hall, which is currently used by the Department of Industrial Design and the Department of Vocational and Adult Education.
“This is a very serious issue for students, for faculty and for all of the Auburn family,” Pratt said. “Our role is not to rewrite history, even if there are blemishes in our history that we don’t approve of. Our role is not to express our own personal opinions of the person for whom a naming was made, either pro or con. Our personal opinions, as members of the task force, don’t matter.”
Trustee Elizabeth Huntley, who is also a member of the diversity task force, said Wallace’s political history was complex, and during the time the building was erected and named after the former governor in the mid-1980s, he had turned away from his past segregationist political views.
“History tells us that [Wallace Hall] was erected during the final political chapter of Wallace’s life when he publicly sought reconciliation and took steps to demonstrate his self-proclaimed new outlook,” Huntley said. “However, even the great civil rights leaders like Rep. John Lewis, who publicly forgave Wallace… also stated he could not forget what Wallace said and did during his political chapter as a self-described segregationist.”
Huntley said the task force came to the decision that the full historical and political context of Wallace’s career should be acknowledged at Wallace Hall.
“We simply must tell all of the history,” Huntley said.
The full text of the plaque, once installed, will read:
“Wallace Hall is named after George Corley Wallace, four-time governor of the State of Alabama and was erected on Auburn’s campus in 1984. The life of Governor Wallace was one of great complexity from his early actions as a self-described segregationist to his later life when he apologized for his words and deeds promoting segregation. In his last election as governor of Alabama, in 1982, he won with more than 90 percent of the black vote. The complexity of Wallace’s legacy has been an ongoing conversation for decades. Auburn’s obligation as an institution of higher education is to promote challenging conversations, which is a valuable component of the academic process.”
The addition of the plaque comes after Auburn student Ashley Henton started a campaign on change.org in June 2020 to rename the building. As of Friday, the campaign has garnered 11,986 signatures in support of the change.
“As governor, Wallace promoted and encouraged segregation between black and white people, he tried to stop public schools in Alabama from integrating, and he personally stood in the way of two black students at the University of Alabama to stop them from registering for classes,” Henson said on the campaign page. “I’d like to publicly ask Auburn University to rename Wallace Hall. There are countless influential people, especially people of color, that are related to Auburn University and the state of Alabama.”
In the campaign, Henton suggested that Auburn University rename the building after Harold A. Franklin, the university’s first African American student, who was met by state troopers sent by Wallace in an attempt to impede his registration for classes and who died Thursday.
The Auburn University Board of Trustees also approved the following items at its meeting Friday:
A final project approval of the renovation of Lowder Hall’s Financial Leadership Collaborative Laboratory.
The cancellation of a project to renovate the Ham Wilson Arena, the demolition of the arena for a future academic or research facility and the construction of a Facilities Management training center.
Project initiation and architect selection of an extension of Duncan Drive between Lem Morrison Drive and Woodfield Drive.
Project initiation and architect selection of the future Transformation Gardens to be created next to the Duncan Drive extension.
Project initiation into the construction of an addition to the North Auburn Equine Research Facility.
Phase 2 of the Plainsman Park Player Development Center, which will include additional seating, new restrooms, concessions, a covered pavilion and a connection to the existing seating concourse.