The College Dorm and the Confederacy

Vanderbilt University will rename a residence hall that has been formally called “Confederate Memorial Hall” for more than 80 years.

Confederate Memorial Hall, known colloquially for years as Memorial Hall, was constructed in 1935.
Vanderbilt University

NEWS BRIEF A Tennessee college will remove a controversial inscription from one of its dormitories, returning an 83-year-old donation for the construction of the building.

The chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Nicholas Zeppos, announced Monday the school would remove “Confederate Memorial Hall,” the name engraved in the stone above the main entrance of a residence hall. Zeppos called the inscription a “symbol of exclusion” in a statement to the university, a private undergraduate and graduate college in Nashville.

“It spoke to a past of racial segregation, slavery, and the terrible conflict over the unrealized high ideals of our nation and our university, and looms over a present that continues to struggle to end the tragic effects of racial segregation and strife,” Zeppos said.

The dorm will be renamed Memorial Hall, the name that has been used in all campus housing assignments, websites, maps and other materials for more than a decade, according to the school.

Vanderbilt will return $1.2 million to the Tennessee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the present value of the $50,000 the group donated to the school in 1933 for the construction of the dorm. The United Daughters of the Confederacy is a national organization of female descendants of Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Back then, the dorm was part of the George Peabody College for Teachers, an independent institution that merged with Vanderbilt in 1979, according to the school. The inscription has been in place since the dorm’s construction in 1935.

The payment complies with a 2005 court ruling in the state. In 2002, Vanderbilt tried to rename the building and drop the inscription, but the Tennessee branch United Daughters of the Confederacy sued the school, arguing it was breaching a contract. A Tennessee appeals court ruled the school could only remove the inscription if it returned the 1933 donation to the group at its value in current dollars. But “Vanderbilt chose to use those funds ... for other purposes rather than enrich an organization whose values it does not share,” the school said.

The $1.2 million payment will come from anonymous donors who gave specifically for the removal of the inscription, the school said.

Various institutions, public and private, in the United States have reconsidered and removed Confederate references and imagery in the last year, most in response to the mass shooting of members of a historically black church in Charleston in June 2015, perpetrated by a gunman who had posed with the battle flag in pictures before the rampage. The Confederate flag was removed from South Carolina’s statehouse a month after the shooting, and lawmakers in some southern cities voted to take down Confederate memorials within their borders. Last August, the University of Texas removed a bronze statue of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, that had stood on campus since 1933.