Dickinson College will soon consider a proposal that would rename three campus buildings because the people whose names adorn the buildings were advocates for slavery. The proposal includes Armstrong and Cooper Residential Halls, named after John Armstrong and Thomas Cooper. The third building is Montgomery Hall, named after John Montgomery, otherwise known to students as the home of the Theatre and Dance Department.
The proposal follows a 35-page report that took a hard look at the history of Dickinson College's ties to slavery and anti-slavery. The report identified a total of 7 former slaveholders who are currently being honored on campus. However, it notes Armstrong, Cooper, and Hall were the only three among the seven that never renounced slaveholding.
The report also found that John Armstrong, Thomas Cooper and John Montgomery were not always publicly commemorated on campus. Armstrong and Cooper residential halls received their names in the 1990s. Montgomery Hall received its name during the 1950s.
Soon to be graduate and history major Cooper Wingert was just one of the many students involved in the project entitled 'Dickinson & Slavery' prepared by the House Divided Project.
Read the full 'Dickinson & Slavery' report here
"Over 60 percent of Dickinson's founding board of trustees were slaveholders," said Wingert. But he said, the most surprising part the students uncovered in their report was "the role that formerly enslaved people played on the Dickinson Campus after the Civil War."
The report also notes there are multiple African-American's who helped shape the history of the campus who are not recognized including:
- Noah Pinkney: "A former slave and Union army veteran who served food to the students for decades. Pinkney was so popular that he was honored with a plaque on East College gate during the 1950s."
- Henry Spradley: A "former slave and Union army veteran, was employed for years as a college janitor. Dickinson cancelled classes to host Spradley`s memorial service in the 1890s."
- Robert Young: "The longest-serving employee of the college (until recently), a former slave who worked for over forty years as a domestic servant, janitor, and campus policeman. Young is now best known, however, for initially helping to integrate the school in the 1880s by insisting in the face of delays and some objections that his son get admitted as the community`s first African American student."
"It's (the report) to bring some of these stories back to life that had not been part of the college's history," said Wingert. "We're arguing that we should recognize these figures and that obviously prompts the debate on how to recognize these long-overlooked individuals."
Wingert said the students behind the project encourage the discussion to take place as well across the larger Carlisle community. The students' work has persuaded the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee to discuss the renaming of buildings and to add commemoration for the people they recognize in the report as unsung heroes on campus. Wingert said the committee will meet at the end of the month to make recommendations that will then go to the Board of Trustees for consideration in March.
Dickinson College released the following statement:
"A committee of faculty, staff, students and trustees are currently considering the renaming of three campus buildings due to the namesakes’ ties to slavery. Recommendations to rename the buildings are one of the outcomes of faculty and student research that began in 2017 to explore the college’s ties to both slavery and anti-slavery. The committee’s recommendations will be shared with the administration, and ultimately the Board of Trustees. The college commends everyone involved in this critical work and the thoughtful discussions taking place around this important subject."
Those involved in The Dickinson & Slavery Report include: House Divided Project Matthew Pinsker,Sarah Aillon, `19, Amanda Donoghue, `19, Sarah Goldberg, `18, Frank Kline, `18, Rachel Morgan, `18, Rebecca Stout, `19, Naji Thompson, `19, Sam Weisman, `18, and Cooper Wingert, `20
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