COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Several former University of South Carolina athletes are voicing their support for the renaming of the Strom Thurmond Fitness and Wellness Center.
These athletes, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Natasha Hastings and former Gamecock great Marcus Lattimore, say they avoided this building during their time on campus because of the beliefs of the man it’s named for. They don’t want current or future Gamecocks to have to feel uncomfortable here.
“The guy literally said that Negroes shouldn’t be here in our places of recreation, amusement, churches, and homes, so just imagine walking into a building where you know that a guy whose name is on did not want to see you or people who look like you in that place. That weighs on you,” explained former Gamecock football player and candidate for US Congress Moe Brown.
Thurmond was the longest-serving Republican in U.S. Senate history, representing South Carolina for 48 years.
He was also a former South Carolina governor and ran for president in 1948 on a platform opposing integration. He would later go on to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
While he’s loved by some for bringing educational and agricultural funding to the state, he never publicly renounced his segregationist views.
“The question we have to ask ourselves as a whole. Are we okay with that?” asked Brown.
Gamecock head women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley joined the group Friday and says she’s fighting for a campus where everyone feels welcome.
“I’m standing here with them for change. I’m supporting what they believe in because change needs to happen. If somebody or anybody creates a division amongst people on this campus, they’ve got to go,” said Coach Staley.
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These athletes say they did have a list of recommended names, but they removed that list from Friday’s meeting because they say they want the process of renaming the fitness center to be inclusive and democratic.
Members of the UofSC Presidential Commission on University History say the naming of the building falls under the Heritage Act, which requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to rename buildings named after historical figures. They encouraged the former athletes to take their argument directly to the South Carolina General Assembly.
University President Bob Caslen released the following letter Friday after hearing the athletes’ news conference:
“I appreciate Moe Brown and our former athletes adding their voices to this issue. I have heard from many students, faculty and other members of the community who share their concerns. We must work toward a more inclusive environment where all of our students feel valued. I am fully committed to this.
It should be noted the university has made recent strides in the areas of diversity and inclusion:
-- Historic appointment of William Tate as the first African American Provost at UofSC, and first in all of the SEC;
-- Elevating the position of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to a Vice President reporting directly to the President, and hiring a dynamic new VP in Julian Williams;
-- Appointing a proven communicator and leader in Larry Thomas as VP for Communications;
-- Leading and establishing a university strategic plan with a dedicated priority to diversity equity and inclusion;
-- Although we do not have final numbers yet, this year we anticipate seeing a significant increase in the number of Black students at UofSC; an 11 percent increase in African American enrollment from this time last year.
I am pleased that the Presidential Commission on University History could meet with Moe’s group and hear their presentation requesting a renaming of the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center. My very first act as president was to establish the Commission with the specific objective of leading a research effort that will help us to better educate students, faculty, staff, visitors and local community members about the complex history of the university. I also have asked the Commission to identify and include the contributions of marginalized and underrepresented people and/or groups whose voices have typically not been heard. Finally, the Commission was recently charged by the Board of Trustees to bring forward a set of names of prominent African American South Carolinians who could be considered for honorific naming of university buildings.
From the beginning of my presidency, I recognized the divisive nature of some campus building names. My goal has been to encourage and foster open, candid dialogue so that all views are expressed and considered. I believe it is important to have open, inclusive, and respectful discussion on matters like this from which we can move forward together. I am excited this process has begun.
I look forward to receiving the Commission’s report.”
President, University of South Carolina
WIS first reported on calls to rename the building back in June, not long after the death of George Floyd, who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis in May. His death led to calls against police brutality, systemic racism and the removal of confederate monuments across the nation.
Former UofSC students started a petition asking the university rename the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center. That petition now has more than 20,000 signatures.