University takes a stand, refuses to change its name due to slave owner ties

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Finally. One university is standing up and speaking out against assumptions that it will change its name after the discovery that it is named after a slave owner. Wingate University in North Carolina announced it will not be changing its name. Instead, it is “time to reclaim the Wingate name”.

In May, Wingate University, a private Judeo-Christian university with campuses in Wingate, Charlotte, and Hendersonville, North Carolina recently learned it is named for a slaveowner, Washington Manly Wingate. It was founded in 1896. Sixteen enslaved people were sold to fund the university’s endowment under his leadership. The discovery was part of research by Wake Forest University.

“Washington Manly Wingate was a two-time president of Wake Forest University, and, according to Wake Forest sociology professor Joseph Soares, it was found that ‘every president of Wake Forest until the Civil War had enslaved human beings under him.’ That includes Manly Wingate,” the university’s announcement said. “Knowing that the stain of past transgressions can never be eliminated and that the debt to people of color can never be repaid, Wingate University officials do believe this deeply upsetting news can serve as an opportunity for reflection, reconciliation and growth.”

At the time of the discovery, Wingate University President Rhett Brown said, “This truth hurts.” “It casts a shadow over our university, my alma mater, and is not in keeping with who we are today, what we value and how we strive to be more inclusive for the students who study here and the people who work here.” He created a panel to recommend steps for the university’s next steps. Wake Forest did as is expected in today’s racially divisive environment – it changed the name of its chapel.

The discovery of Wingate’s history came after a phone call with Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch. Wake Forest announced May 7 that they would rename part of its Wait Chapel from Wingate Hall to May 7, 1860 Hall.

The portion of the chapel was originally named after then-president Washington Manly Wingate. The date marks when 16 enslaved people were sold to fund the university’s endowment under his leadership.

The name is a bit on-the-nose, isn’t it? Anyway, school leaders at Wingate organized a campus-wide virtual meeting. Wingate put together a group of faculty and staff to look at the history of the school. President Brown stressed that the name of the university would not be changed. Instead, a research team was developed to present a more complete understanding the university’s history. Then the advisory group was tasked with making recommendations to the Board of Trustees on improving ways “to serve all students in an environment where each individual belongs and thrives.” That’s the happy talk for justifying not making a name change. Good for President Brown. It’s time to “reclaim the Wingate name” and move on.

“It’s time to reclaim the Wingate name and reaffirm our position statement: To all students who strive to improve themselves and their communities, Wingate University is a laboratory of difference-making, where students’ desire to learn intersects with faculty expertise and with opportunities in our region, to serve the common good,” Brown said.

Let Wake Forest act like woke weenies and remove Wingate’s name from a campus hall. President Brown sent a message on campus Thursday just in case anyone is under the impression that a name change is on the table.

“I would first like to clear up an assumption some have made since the news first broke: Wingate University is NOT considering a name change. Instead, I have asked a small team of researchers to study our namesake and report their findings to an advisory group. The work of the research team will enable us to acknowledge and develop a more complete understanding of our history. Based on these findings, the advisory group will recommend to our Board of Trustees ways to improve how we serve all students in an environment where each individual belongs and thrives. I pledge to you that these recommendations will lead to meaningful action and long-standing, tangible change. It’s time to reclaim the Wingate name and reaffirm our position statement: To all students who strive to improve themselves and their communities, Wingate University is a laboratory of difference-making, where students’ desire to learn intersects with faculty expertise and with opportunities in our region, to serve the common good.”

American history is messy, as is all history. Our country is not now as it was at its founding, nor is it as it was just a few decades ago. Change is constant and the American experiment is the greatest achievement of any country throughout history. It is something to be proud of while acknowledging that our history has its flaws. The learning institutions caving to the perpetually outraged and those who wish to re-write history in a way that pits Americans against each other, particularly along racial lines, are destructive to the very people they are supposed to serve. Students deserve better. The purpose of higher education is to teach young people how to think critically and form their own opinions. Keep this university’s name intact is the right thing to do.