A group of Winthrop University students want to name the auditorium in one of the college’s oldest buildings after the late Bessie Moody-Lawrence – a former professor and York County legislator known as “the velvet hammer” for her advocacy for children, education and equal rights.
Winthrop’s chief elected student leader, Kambrell Garvin, said he supports the student government’s effort to honor Moody-Lawrence for her service and becoming the one of the university’s first tenured black professors.
The student government of about 30 people voted unanimously to name Tillman Hall’s auditorium in memory of Moody-Lawrence after Garvin presented the idea in early January.
Moody-Lawrence died Dec. 18 at 71 from brain cancer.
The most important factor in renaming a space at Winthrop is “the legacy of who it is being named after,” said Michelle Slaughter, a student government member.
Moody-Lawrence “was an amazing woman who stood for great things,” Slaughter said.
She was a “trailblazing pioneer,” the students’ resolution states, and “renaming of the auditorium would reflect the inclusive nature of the Winthrop University of today while continuing to acknowledge our historic past.”
The auditorium students want to rename is inside an administrative building named for Benjamin Tillman – a former S.C. governor and U.S. senator who helped establish Winthrop and Clemson University.
Nicknamed “Pitchfork Ben,” Tillman is depicted in biographies as a racist politician who was opposed to giving women the right to vote and American expansion overseas.
Winthrop students want to “diversify a historically significant building,” the students’ resolution states.
Most current Winthrop students were still in high school when Moody-Lawrence worked as an education professor at the university.
Still, said Winthrop student leader Chris Aubrie, students and the community should learn more about her leadership.
She was the second black woman elected to the Legislature from York County and one of three black, female legislators elected in South Carolina.
Winthrop’s student government resolution praises Moody-Lawrence for her work “across party lines” to “improve the human condition” for all people.
The York County Council recently honored Moody-Lawrence with a resolution, calling her an “impeccable leader and mentor” who made “unyielding sacrifices.”
Winthrop officials are working with the students and the family of Moody-Lawrence to decide how to move forward with the student government’s idea.