Rhodes College renames building due to namesake’s racist past

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Another Mid-South institution has changed the name of one of its buildings after studying the past of the man for whom it was named.

Rhodes College officials focused on Palmer Hall, a foreign language teaching building.

“Early on, President Troutt, who now has retired, formed a team. Faculty, staff and students came together to understand what need to do to take on issues related to naming and renaming,” said Rhodes College Provost Milton Moreland.

Moreland said the group learned more about Benjamin Palmer, a minister from New Orleans.

"He’s probably most famous for trying to defend slavery and segregation using the Bible,” Moreland said.

They spent three years discussing what to do, until last Friday, when the sign for Palmer Hall came down.

The college board voted to rename the building Southwestern Hall, paying tribute to the previous name of the college before it moved to Memphis in 1925 and was later renamed Rhodes in 1984.

Students told WREG they applauded the change.

"I think it’s a great idea. It’s a great time for change,” sophomore Marisa Moore said.

"I think it’s a step in the right direction for the school, and more importantly for the South and the country,” freshman Bobby Pettit said.

In fact, it was hard to find anyone on campus who openly disagreed with the move. But Moreland said they did hear from concerned alumni.

"The board is adamant rather than erase history, we bring to light the history of the college and pay more attention to it than we’ve been doing,” Moreland said.

Inside the building, there’s already a plaque about Benjamin Palmer, but school officials said they’re going to add a second plaque next to it to provide some extra context.

They say that’s the best way to honor history while moving into the future.

“You want to honor tradition but there comes a point where you have to look at what people have done and realize it’s not representative of what we want to do as a country,” Rhodes freshman Isiah Pratt said,

However, less than 10 percent of Rhodes students identify as African American. Next, officials said they wanted to focus on increasing those numbers in the future. They called it a priority they’re working on it every day.

 

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