Updated at 5:00 Sept. 30 to attribute quote to Strange. Updated 11:15 on Oct. 1 to fix a misspelling in Rodger Smitherman’s name. Updated 11:24 on Oct. 1 to remove the word current to clarify that the current board did not name most buildings on campus. Updated 11:55 to add general clarity and add Rep. (D) Smitherman’s proper title.
On Tuesday, Sept. 29, the University of Montevallo Board of Trustees held a meeting to discuss the potential renaming of some buildings on campus. With the conversation around race being a common topic among the public, the significance of certain historical figures and what they represent has become a concern for facilities all across the country.
The meeting began with a bit of background on the buildings from Trustee Brian Hamilton, and a few introductions to the perspectives and thinking behind how names of the buildings in question were brought to light.
In the preceding months, on the advice of the administration, the chair appointed a working group to review building names on campus in response to constituencies and the conversations about race occurring across the country.
“Our approach to the working group was in two phases. First phase being to read and interrogate the historic nature of the namesakes truthfully. Secondly, to act responsibly with the recommendations for the Board of Trustees,” explained Hamilton.
“In doing so we view the activities of the individuals and the university from four perspectives. One being the context of the life and time of individual. The second being the context of the life and time in which the university made an official act to name the buildings. The third perspective would be from the context of today’s lens with the significant benefit of technology. [The] pandemics got everyone at home in this space and time for people to really dig deep into a rigorous activity to interrogate the historic nature of [the individuals’] activity.”
“Finally, for the lens of posterity from which trustees in our positions moving forward, [to] add some precedence to take actions if and when this came up again. In doing so, one of the things we focused on was the reputational risk of the University, the legal financial risk and most importantly, through the lens and life of our students today which we all recognize as the life of our university.”
After briefing the board on the standards that each historical figure was being held to, Hamilton continued to name the buildings in question.
“The recommendation of the committee, to the trustees was to rename Bibb Graves, Comer, Wallace, and do nothing with Reynolds, and to contextualize and honor the enslaved individuals from King house. I will note that there was significant conversation around the Wallace building and just for the record just, to be clear, there was overwhelming support on the committee to rename that that was part of this recommendation,” said Hamilton.
In regards to the names of the buildings, most buildings were named by the various Board of Trustees throughout UM’s history, save for Wallace. Wallace, was named via Act 110 by the 1975 Alabama legislature, written on Nov. 14 at 2:45 p.m.
The act reads, “To name the speech and hearing clinic at the University of Montevallo the George C. Wallace speech and hearing clinic be enacted by the legislature of Alabama. The speech and hearing center is hereby named the George C. Wallace Speech and Hearing Center and the authorities at the university are hereby directed to appropriately designate said building. All laws or partial laws which conflict with this act are repealed. This act shall become effective upon its passage and approval by the governor and upon its otherwise becoming law.”
After discussion with the administration of the senate, the board chairman, Todd Strange, expressed that it was the council’s opinion that the Board of Trustees do not have the authority to rename that Wallace because it was a legislative action directed at the University. Until further clarification with a higher authority, Strange recommended modifying the removal of Wallace.
Another issue brought to light upon inquisition from Trustee and state Sen. (D) Rodger Smitherman, was the character and intentions of Captain Reynolds, the first president of the University. He served in the Confederate navy, but one thing the committee examined thoroughly was his relationship to Booker T. Washington in regards to the University.
According to Hamilton, “one of the interesting things about Captain Reynolds and his 10-years helping to get the University off the ground was his relationship with Booker T. Washington and how they jointly lobbied congress together for federal lands appropriated to both Montevallo and Tuskegee.”
Similarly, “during the truth and reconciliation exercise in Montevallo,” there was evidence that suggests Reynolds attempted to save the lives of men who were lynched, essentially going against the status quo of that time period.
“What we really looked at is the University’s action in naming the building after Captain Reynolds and the record suggests he was really recognized for his activities [involving] the University and there didn’t appear to be anything in the record that suggests… that the University was continuing on anything that would not further the union, if you will, in terms of the United States,” said Hamilton.
From information gathered from Washington’s papers, Hamilton documented a very significant relationship with Reynolds. As African Americans were still living through segregation policies, Reynolds would lobby on behalf of Montevallo and Tuskegee. Since Washington had a substantial relationship with the Republican Party at the time, he acted as an impetus for some of Reynolds ties.
The group could not find any record of Reynold owning slaves.
Because of these findings, Reynolds was not considered for renaming.
In a vote of 8 to 3, the movement to rename Comer and Bibb Graves was passed. Until another group can be appointed to review building names on campus in entirety and find alternative names for the two facilities, Strange said they should be generically called humanities hall, old gym or something similar.