In September 2018, students, faculty, and staff at Duke University rallied alongside local residents to advocate the renaming of Carr Building due to the legacy of white supremacy associated with its namesake—Julian Shakespeare Carr. Carr was a Confederate soldier, a tobacco magnate, and a philanthropist who donated the land for East Campus to Trinity College. For nearly 90 years, this building, which houses the History Department, bore the Carr name. However, in the wake of national debates regarding Confederate monuments in the South, Duke’s History Department filed a formal request to rename Carr Building.
While the debate will undoubtedly continue for some time, the contributors of this Forum have provided their opinions as to why the renaming of Carr Building to that of Classroom Building was welcome—albeit long overdue. Each of the contributors has, in one way or another, worked, studied, and produced historical knowledge within a building named to honor a white supremacist. By drawing connections between the past and their own lived experiences, the contributors hope to draw the readers’ attention to how the past continues to shape the present.
In his piece, James Chappel, Assistant Professor of History at Duke University, acknowledges his own problematic position as a faculty member who has had to teach within the confines of Carr. Anderson Hagler, a graduate student in Duke’s History Department, shows how violent race-based subordination connects to Confederate monuments on campus. Jessica Hauger, a History graduate student and member of the Graduate Student Association, discusses her experience as a Southerner travelling from Alabama to North Carolina and highlights the need for a broader, more inclusive discussion about history and memory within the local community. Rayhan Jhanji, an undergraduate History major, talks about how he personally felt as a person of color studying within Carr Building and calls for a counter-monument to be installed so as to educate faculty, students, and alumni about the complicated past that Duke University has between fostering diversity and supporting bigotry. Jacob Remes, a Duke alumnus and Clinical Associate Professor of History at New York University, details his personal involvement in protests against racism and highlights how Confederate monuments were erected as a means of intimidation to further the political project of white supremacy.
Each contribution in this forum contains the author’s personal relationship to public spaces that became controversial in the very recent past. By focusing on embodied experiences in a moment when history is being made, the authors describe how teaching, studying, and working in the Carr Building affected their research, their political activism, and their sense of compassion. The ongoing task for historians is to first take a position regarding the production of History and then to produce work that either sustains or disputes a particular line of reasoning through logical arguments based on evidence. By doing so, these historians hope to show how the renaming of Carr Building can create new interpretations of the past and a more welcoming environment for all.