Clemson University should rename Tillman Hall, a building that honors a "racist" who advocated brutality against black people, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in Greenville on Friday.
"Ben 'Pitchfork' Tillman was a racist who reacted to the African-American people with violence," said Jackson, a Greenville native. "He recommended genocide against black people."
In an exclusive preview of his remarks as keynote speaker at Greenville's MLK Diversity Banquet on Friday night, Jackson also criticized Gov. Nikki Haley and other state leaders for refusing to expand Medicaid.
"The state is reducing the life expectancies of poor people," Jackson tole The Greenville News as he prepared to speak at the TD Convention Center. "One-fourth of South Carolina is in poverty. People can't get mammograms and can't see a doctor but have to resort to emergency rooms."
Jackson, one of the nation's most prominent civil rights leaders, added his voice to a chorus of students and faculty calling for changing the name of Tillman Hall, one of Clemson's oldest and iconic buildings.
Tillman, a former South Carolina governor, was one of the founding trustees of Clemson and an outspoken white supremacist. Historians also tie Tillman to the 1876 Hamburg massacre, an incident in which six blacks were killed.
Jackson said Clemson should honor South Carolina figures such as Harvey Gantt, who in 1963 became the first black student to be admitted to Clemson and the first black mayor of Charlotte.
"People of conscience must choose Harvey Gantt going forward as a symbol and not Ben Tillman going backward," Jackson said.
Jackson urged students and faculty to rise up in public protest, adding that he would be proud to participate.
"I hope that students, faculty and other people will protest mightily," Jackson said. "I would be glad to be a part of such a protest for a new South."
Clemson student Colby Lanham, a communications studies major, disagreed with Jackson. "We all know the history of Tillman," Lanham said. "We know his viewpoints as well as those of Thomas Green Clemson and John C. Calhoun. But renaming a building won't change history or Tillman's view of minorities."
Lanham supports recent diversity initiatives by Clemson President Jim Clements and suggested the school should do more to recruit minority students and faculty.
"Focusing on those efforts instead of renaming buildings is a more constructive idea," Lanham said.