Vanderbilt University is spending a handsome $1.2 million to remove the word “Confederate” from the school’s Confederate Memorial Hall, the university announced Monday.
In order to make the change, the school will return an 83-year-old donation from the Daughters of Confederate Veterans, which helped build the hall in question. The dormitory has stood since 1935 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
School chancellor Nicholas Zeppos said the decision was made in the name of diversity.
“Can we continue to strive for that diverse and inclusive community where we educate the leaders that our communities, nation and world so desperately need, with this hall as so created?” Zeppos said in a message to the school community. “My view, like that of so many in the past, and so many in our present, is that we cannot.” (RELATED: Not Even The Dead Can Have Confederate Flags)
Zeppos’s message said the hall’s name, which commemorates Tennessee soldiers killed fighting for the South in the Civil War, was “a symbol of exclusion” that “spoke to a past of racial segregation, slavery, and the terrible conflict over the unrealized high ideals of our nation and our university.”
The battle over the hall’s name dates back to 2002, when the school made its first push to rename it. The United Daughters of the Confederacy sued, saying the hall’s name was a requirement for a major donation they had given the school. The group won, with a Tennessee state court saying the name could only go if Vanderbilt returned the original $50,000 donation adjusted for inflation, which today amounts to $1.2 million. (RELATED: College Offers Counseling For Victims Of Confederate Flag Sticker)
At the time, Vanderbilt balked, but now the school says the situation is different. The money to finance the refund will come from anonymous private donors, the school said.
In addition to paying back the donation, Vanderbilt will also have to spend to remove a pediment at the top of the building which bears the current name.
Doug Jones, an attorney for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, denounced the school’s decision.
“All it was was just a simple monument for the boys in Tennessee that died [in the Civil War,]” Jones told the Tennessean. “We think rewriting history’s just terrible. And I think it’s a very sad day for a school with that kind of reputation to be condoning that.”
Notably, Vanderbilt itself was founded in 1873, during Reconstruction, to help facilitate national unity in the years following the Civil War.
Vanderbilt is only the latest school in the South to modify or remove symbols of the Confederacy from campus. Last year, for instance, the University of Texas removed a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
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