MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Rhodes College is renaming one of its oldest buildings that was initially named after a Confederate pastor.
Palmer Hall was named after Rev. Benjamin Palmer, who was an outspoken advocate of slavery with ties to the college.
As a student of color at Rhodes College, freshman Grace Oboh said it was powerful moment when the Board of Trustees voted to rename former Palmer Hall to Southwestern Hall.
“There’s not many of us here so the fact that they are going to listen to us and that our voice matters,” said Oboh.
Pastor Benjamin Palmer was a major figure in the establishment of the Southwestern Presbyterian University, the predecessor of Rhodes college. In his sermons, Palmer used the bible to justify slavery.
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Before the board’s vote, a committee of students, staff and alumni researched Palmer's legacy and they believe it clashes with the college's vision.
“They thought about the impact it has on the black students and the students of color here that felt the weight of… his words and weight of what he stood for and what it means in our lives today,” said Oboh.
Since Rhodes College is a private university and the building is on private land, members of Confederate 901 said they will respect this decision, but they don’t agree with it.
“Just because someone is associated with Confederacy means they’re automatically labeled a racist, white supremacist, they’re picking and choosing history,” said K-Rack Johnson, co-founder of Confederate 901.
Additionally, the college will create an annual event focused on Rhodes’ history.
“Not forgetting history is something really important and when you forget history it repeats itself,” said Liaha Haduk, Rhodes College freshman. “I think learning from what Benjamin Palmer stood for and things like that, so we don’t repeat that is really important.”
University staff said the new sign for Southwestern Hall will be up this week.
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