Education

UNC covers up Kenan Stadium plaque that was tied to racial violence and white supremacy

More than a year after UNC-Chapel Hill pledged to change the dedication plaques at Kenan Memorial Stadium, at least one of them is now covered with a temporary UNC logo.

The university wants to shift the focus away from William Rand Kenan Sr., who was a leader in the Wilmington racial violence of 1898.

“Last year, the University announced we would change the plaques at Kenan stadium to recognize Kenan Memorial Stadium appropriately,” UNC said in a statement Thursday. “The logo placed over a plaque last week is a temporary fix until new signage can be created.”

The university didn’t provide any details about what the permanent plaque will say or when it will be installed.

When the university announced the change in October 2018, then-Chancellor Carol Folt said UNC would “remove the honorific reference to William R. Kenan, Sr., to focus instead on the donor who made the gift, William R. Kenan, Jr., and to tell the full and complete history.”

That history was detailed by NBC sports reporter Craig Calcaterra last year when tensions were high after the Confederate monument Silent Sam was toppled by protesters on UNC’s campus. Calcaterra wrote that football fans probably have no idea that the stadium is dedicated to Kenan Sr., the “commander of a white supremacist paramilitary force which massacred scores of black residents of Wilmington, North Carolina on a single, bloody day in 1898.”

After talking with the Kenan family, the university decided to instead honor William Rand Kenan Jr., who made the donation to build the stadium in honor of his parents.

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A plaque commemorating William Rand Kenan Sr., known to have a racist history, at Kenan Memorial Stadium has been covered by the UNC-Chapel Hill logo. Photo taken Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, in Chapel Hill, NC. Casey Toth ctoth@newsobserver.com

Folt said in a statement last year that UNC and North Carolina have “benefited enormously from the Kenan philanthropy of the past 100 years.”

The stadium isn’t the only Kenan namesake on campus. The Kenan-Flagler Business School is named after the younger Kenan, as well as UNC professorships. His philanthropy, The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, has also given millions to education and the arts and sponsored more than 100 professorships at dozens of institutions across the nation.

In recognizing the positive impact the Kenan family has made to the university, Folt also made clear that it’s important to reckon with UNC’s history even, when it’s hard. She said last year that the university “will look just as carefully at all other names memorialized on our campus.”

There are about thirty UNC academic and residence buildings with names tied to white supremacy, according to the Daily Tar Heel campus newspaper.

Activists have called on students and community members pressure the university to remove other tributes to slaveholders and white supremacy on campus.

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This 2011 photo shows the dedication plaque outside Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill. UNC-Chapel Hill is changing the plaque to distance the university from William Rand Kenan Sr.’s involvement in the 1898 massacre targeting black North Carolinians. The university consulted with the Kenan family and decided to change the honorific reference to focus on stadium donor William Rand Kenan Jr., who had made the stadium donation in memory of his parents. Gerry Broome, File AP Photo
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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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