Vanderbilt to Remove “Confederate” Inscription

The announcement came earlier today that Vanderbilt University’s Confederate Memorial Hall will be re-named.

Click here for the history of this particular campus building.

12 thoughts on “Vanderbilt to Remove “Confederate” Inscription

  1. Scott Ledridge

    First of all, holy cow, how much money did the UDC have? Monuments, halls, and things like this: “It was used as a residential building, where female students who descended from Confederate veterans and intended to study for a teaching career were selected by the UDC to live free of charge.”

    Good on them for wanting to help women further their education. But, I’m curious how slanted the teaching was that came out of this Hall.

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    1. Andy Hall

      “First of all, holy cow, how much money did the UDC have?”

      In today’s dollars, approximately one metric butt-ton.

      Educational activities was a central focus of the UDC, and they poured a huge amount of time and effort into it. The sponsored and distributed textbooks of schools, put forward candidates for curriculum committees, and so on. In the 1910s they even led a fundraising effort to distribute books on the history of the Reconstruction-era Klan to classrooms across the South. As Caroline Janney has described in detail, it was southern wives and daughters, often more so than the veterans themselves, who kept the Lost Cause alive with a smoldering resentment and determination.

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      1. Scott Ledridge

        “In today’s dollars, approximately one metric butt-ton.” – Sounds very scientific and accurate. I can only assume it’s correct.

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  2. Andy Hall

    Although the UDC didn’t succeed in keeping the name on the building, the outcome here is not inequitable, and the court did substitively validate the UDC’s argument. The court essentially told Vanderbilt in 2005, “you can take the name off the building when you give them back their money, with interest.” And that’s what has happened now. The $1.2M payment amounts to an accrued interest on the original $50,000 principal of just under 4% annually, over the past 83 years.

    Broadly speaking, it’s what one would expect the courts to do if one party failed to live up to its end of a contractual obligation.

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    1. Andrew Raker

      The court cases were happening when I was a student, and I agreed then with the university’s decision to leave the pediment up but refer to the building exclusively as “Memorial Hall”, because, while I did not like the name, I really did not want the UDC to have the money. But it seems that in the past year, even the pediment has become too much for a significant number of students, and, more importantly, for the donors who have given the $1.2 million for this.

      Memorial Hall’s former name never really fit in with Vanderbilt, after it was acquired with the rest of Peabody in 1979. I was glad to see the Chancellor make the argument, in his email to alumni, that “the name is discordant with our own work under the founding charge of Cornelius Vanderbilt, to find union and healing after the bloodshed of the Civil War.” The Board of Trust’s decision reaches back to 1873, but also looks forward to the future.

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      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        I was glad to see the Chancellor make the argument, in his email to alumni, that “the name is discordant with our own work under the founding charge of Cornelius Vanderbilt, to find union and healing after the bloodshed of the Civil War.”

        I thought it was a nice touch to reference the Union cause, especially in Tennessee.

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  3. Scott Ledridge

    So, from a very ignorant position, I wonder how this affects future handling of Confederate monuments. Especially those that were donated by groups like the UDC. Does this set a precedent? If so, I assume it makes matters more difficult.

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    1. Andy Hall

      “I wonder how this affects future handling of Confederate monuments. Especially those that were donated by groups like the UDC. Does this set a precedent?”

      Likely not; this is an unusual case. The 2005 ruling found that there were multiple written agreements going back to the 1910s between Peabody College, that originally built the dormitory, and the UDC, that explicitly designated the structure as “Confederate Memorial Hall.”

      What’s proved to be more common in the case of other Confederate monuments (e.g., Louisville, Kentucky; Reidsville, North Carolina) is that the legal title to them and the property they stand on is poorly documented, and it’s not even clear that a group like the UDC would have standing to sue in the first place.

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  4. msb

    Good for Vandy. I graduated in 1978, so I don’t think I ever saw this building, although I did go over to Peabody for a couple of courses. Gee, the administration’s rhetoric has undergone a welcome change in the (gulp) intervening 38 years.

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  5. Andy Hall

    One thing that’s been interesting to watch in the reaction to this move by Vanderbilt, in addition to the usual carping about leftists/cultural genocide/Marxism/political correctness/haters and so forth, is the unanimity of advice about what the UDC should do with the money — put up more Confederate flags, lots of them, the biggest they find, preferably in locations visible from Nick Zeppos’ office window.

    That may ultimately be the real legacy of the Virginia Flaggers, whose relentless, shouty self-promotion and willingness to inject themselves into local disputes far afield from their own communities have made them a voice far more influential in heritage circles than their actual numbers would suggest. A million-dollars-plus would preserve a big chunk of an endangered battlefield, conserve dozens of uniforms or regimental flags, pay for digitizing archival records, support thesis research work by graduate students — the list goes on and on and on. There are innumerable things, real, concrete, and valuable things, that that money could go to, that would make a real difference.

    But at this point, for a good many folks, preserving Confederate heritage begins and ends with more and bigger Confederate flags. It’s sad, but they’ve done this to themselves.

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    1. Jimmy Dick

      I hope they do put up more flags. It causes people to ask questions and that’s where historians crush the lost cause lie. So far the causers have put up dozens of flags. The results? Ole Miss just dropped Dixie from the play list. Vanderbilt is removing Confederate inscriptions. Schools across the nation are changing their names from confederates to something else. A highway named for Dixie was renamed for Barack Obama in Florida. The flag came down in South Carolina. It left several cities in Virginia. It is no longer at the VMFA chapel. The list goes on and on.

      History is being presented by historians using facts and the causers can’t stand it. Their cherished myths are being exposed for the lies they’ve always been. So they just fly more flags and yell louder while accomplishing nothing.

      As you point out, Andy, they could do a lot for history. Instead, they choose to ignore history in favor of fiction. Increasingly, their rhetoric shows us that this is really about their modern political ideology and the history part is only used to lend validation to that ideology.

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