Guest Viewpoint: UO must cease from symbolically supporting slavery and DENAME Deady Hall
This piece reflects the views of the author, the University of Oregon Black Student Task Force, and not those of Emerald Media Group.
There is a big difference between erasing history and continuing to foster a relationship with white supremacy. The University of Oregon’s noble verdict to dename Dunn yet unfortunate decision to hold off on denaming Deady represents the latter.
In November 2015, the UO’s Black Student Task Force presented university administrators with a list of 12 demands, including the de-naming of both Dunn and Deady Hall for ties to the Ku Klux Klan and anti-Black racism. Earlier this year, UO President Michael Schill put a team of historians together to investigate the histories of Frederick Dunn and Matthew Deady and make recommendations. Ultimately, the UO chose to dename Dunn Hall but leave Deady as is.
One of the most troubling aspects of this decision is that it appears to place more importance on the false narrative of erasing history than the humanity of UO’s Black students. To be clear, the criteria for denaming Deady Hall, as established by President Schill, includes erecting a display that explains the building’s history, the history of those with whom the building was affiliated, and how that history might be viewed in their own times and in contemporary Oregon.
Just what is that history? According to the historians’ findings, Dunn served as the “Exalted Cyclops” of Eugene Klan No. 3 in the 1920s. Deady, however, was more “complicated.” He ran for office as a proslavery delegate to the Oregon Constitutional Convention and supported the infamous Exclusion Laws that banned Black people from living in Oregon. However, later on in his life as a judge, he made some decisions in favor of Chinese immigrants. He also “embraced” the 14th and 15th Amendments following losing the Civil War as a member of the Confederacy, but there is no evidence that his anti-Black sentiments ever changed. Some point to the fact that 89% of Oregon voters also supported the Exclusion Law, but does that mean he’s above being held accountable? Deady also espoused pro-slavery views even though 75% of Oregon voters opposed it.
While it’s easy to get bogged down in the details, the decision of whether or not to dename Deady Hall comes down to one simple question. Is the UO welcoming to its Black students or not?
We understand that Deady played a major role in the founding and maintaining of UO (which will be detailed in a display in a prominent part of the denamed building) but it’s 2016. For just as much as he’s done for the university, Deady has also contributed to a culture of anti-Blackness that persists on campus today. There is no shortage of Black males who are more used to being called “Football Player” than their actual names, even if they’ve never set foot in Autzen Stadium. Likewise, far too many Black students have stories about run-ins with either campus and or local police for no other reason than walking while Black. Perhaps most detrimental is the fact that many Black students have to spend valuable study time seeking help from student advocates, just to force their professors to serve them the same way they serve their white counterparts. The fact is, we see and live with this anti-Blackness every day. Buildings honoring the architects of our oppression only add insult to injury.
They also pose a major problem for recruiting. When UO student ambassadors give campus tours, do they explain Deady’s anti-Black/pro-slavery history and Dunn’s position as an exalted member of the KKK? These subjects certainly weren’t mentioned during our campus tour. What about the Black students who give campus tours? What message does it send when the UO tasks them with promoting a school that celebrates men who didn’t want Black people on their campus?
Like most, we discovered the history of Dunn and Deady much later through informal research. This doesn’t speak highly of how the UO handles its image or how much it trusts the intellects of its students to process this information. Thus, it is patently disingenuous to say denaming Deady Hall is erasing history when the UO has made no effort to educate its students on this history in the first place.
We are witnessing a rise and normalization of white supremacy throughout the country. It’s to the point where the presidential candidate of one of our major political parties retweeted KKK members and neo-Nazis (among a laundry list of other things), knowing it would boost his popularity and get him elected. In this context, it is as critical a time as ever for the UO to stand with its Black students and foster a climate that is welcoming and equitable.
This is bigger than Deady Hall, the UO or the state of Oregon. It’s about our country confronting the cancer of white supremacy before it spreads any further. This means attacking it in all forms, whether overt or subtle.
The UO Black Student Task Force seeks to do its part by helping create a campus that is not defined by past and present anti-Black racism and xenophobic politics. Changing the name of Dunn and not Deady Hall is selling both Black students and the rest of the university short. Other universities like Georgetown are already leading the way in these efforts to redefine themselves and better serve their students. Instead of playing it safe, the UO could be part of this vanguard.
Regardless, history will continue moving forward. The question is, will the UO move with it?
University of Oregon Black Student Task Force
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