Saunders Hall

Omololu Babatunde on the invocation of Zora Neale Hurston Hall

Excerpt Description: Omololu Babatunde recounts the history of Zora Neale Hurston’s presence on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus in the 1940s and explains how Black students in 2015 began to call the geography and religious studies building Hurston Hall.

Interviewee Name: Omololu Babatunde

Interviewer: Charlotte Fryar

Excerpt Transcript: “I was thinking how funny it was that she called herself to be named on this site, because when we were organizing, it was #KickOuttheKKK and we were just, like, get Saunders off the wall. Then we were, like, once we started knowing where we were and how powerful we were, we were, like, actually, we can decide what it’s named. Why can’t we do that? So then we would literally—what we were going to do is participate in a collective naming, like inviting the whole student body who was concerned by it to participate in the naming of this by every week saying that, “This hall is called Murray Hall for Pauli Murray, who wasn’t allowed here. This hall is called—.” And just like finding all these people who had been hidden from the history, and just naming it that, so the name would always be changing. And everyone was really excited in a good way to learn about, like, where we actually are. But then it was so funny, because everyone was excited and gung-ho, but there was a bit of timidness, and then people were, like, “Yeah, but, you know, people already call it Hurston Hall.” And I was, like—I remember being, like, “Oh, interesting,” because I thought, “Zora Neale Huston?” I thought, “Huh.” And because I took the Black and Blue tour with Professor McMillan, and he had said the story about Paul Green and her not being able to, like, attend a class here, so he had to move it to his house. And I remember being like, “Yo, that’s mad interesting. Yeah,” like, what a weird—but then I was, like, I immediately disqualified it, because I was, like, but, like, proof and, like—in my head, I was thinking this, and it would just be such a bigger—it just would be such a, like, more—and this is what I was thinking in my head. Like, it would be such a more exciting process/aligned with this argumentation that we’re trying to be around that’s, like, there are other names to this place if we participated in this, like, [snaps fingers] continual naming, like, [snaps fingers] we need to do a naming that’s an exercise, not, like just why do we have to just name it one thing. So that’s what I was arguing.
So I was actually arguing against—not “against,” but I had a deep pushback Against—not “pushback,” but I wasn’t convinced. But, and it’s weird to say that I wasn’t convinced, but it really did feel like that in the room sometime, like, I don’t know, the way that things went down, we were all dreaming together, but sometimes it felt very singular, like you have convince this person that we’ve decided needs to be convinced. It’s, like, “I’m just offering my opinion here. Like, people should do what they want.” And then I realized—and that’s what really freaked me out, too, because I was, like, this is not supposed to be some person doing something.
So then Ashley Winkfield, who was a Zeta, like, Phi—I don’t know how you pronounce the full name, but, like, the Zetas are like a black sorority. And Zora Neale Hurston was a Zeta, and they knew that history of Zora Neale Hurston not because of Tim McMillan, but because they were all Zetas. So they knew this history. And then so all the Zetas were calling it Hurston Hall, because it’s Hurston Hall, because she’s a Zeta. So then a lot of people—because at that time, black students at UNC from all different populations, like, black Greek life, like, all different black students from BS[M], like, from different sects of black UNC communities, were together, organizing, and it was under Umoja, this collective, non-descriptive coalition of people from different black sectors on campus, really that’s what it was, and all the different black fraternities and sororities who had members in it, and everyone there had decided it was Hurston Hall.
So then I was, like, well, if it’s already named—I just became more convinced by it. I was, like, “You’re right. Why? Why are we doing this labor of, like—,” or, like, making people reform this renaming constantly when this thing has already been named in a way that can still hold this searching and journeying that I think, I thought, the process of renaming would and unsubstantiated. I was, like, actually, we can hold and locate this site in a singular, but it’s not singular, thing; i.e., Hurston, but it can also be that singular thing that opens up to everything.”

Organization: Real Silent Sam Coalition

Event Mentioned Date: 1/30/2015

Excerpt Length: 4:25

Interview Date: 12/1/2017

Interview Location: Durham, North Carolina

Campus Space: Saunders Hall

Citation: Interview with Omololu Babatunde by Charlotte Fryar, 1 December 2017, in the Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.