Moving Forward

This essay is intended to serve as a potential policy document for leading the University out of the “diversity without justice” cultural paradigm and towards a future of reparative racial justice. It will make the most sense if you first read at least the Introduction.

“This beautiful place is built on some very ugly things. What do I do with that? It is what it is, but what do I do about that? How do I function? What do I do differently?”1 The answers to Donelle Boose’s initial questions for herself and other campus organizers offered in the histories of resistance presented in this dissertation chart a series of counter-narratives that Black students and workers have built into a working legacy of racial justice movements at the University. Although this legacy is potent, these histories map onto an unstable landscape of access to justice for Black Chapel Hill citizens. Despite some success in challenging the anti-Blackness of the University, the cultural, campus, and institutional landscapes of the University all remain dominated by white supremacy, each controlled and reproduced by the University’s racist history and its contemporary anti-Black practices. And though the history of how Black students and workers challenged specific spaces within the racialized campus landscape demonstrates the power of constructing an alternative interpretation of the University as an institution defined by its anti-Blackness, the University’s dominant cultural paradigm remains inviolable. As long as the “diversity without justice” paradigm prevails, the future of the University will be directed by the white supremacy foundational to its past and present.2

Panoramic Photograph of Polk Place, 1997 in the News Services of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records #40139, University Archives, Wilson Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What do we do with that? How do we function? What do we do differently? In providing possible answers to these questions, this essay considers a potential future for the University under a new cultural paradigm directed by reparative justice, and outlines the policies and processes necessary to initiate such a paradigm shift. This reparative justice paradigm is supported by contemporary movements’ assertions of a future for the University that they envision as formed by a relational sense of place, in which the University and its multiple landscapes of experience coalesce into a full and dynamic place of resistance to institutional anti-Blackness. By following in the directions that these movements point, this essay seeks to provide a prospective template for a counter-mapping of the University’s landscapes. In describing a counter-mapping of the University’s cultural, campus, and institutional landscapes—still predominantly mapped by white supremacy despite some changes—I refer to the introduction of systems, policies, and cultural shifts that map landscapes “against dominant power structures.”3 This template outlines a potential path for future racial justice movements which utilizes the full legacy of past movements to conceptualize the University as a place of humanity, dignity, and equity for all campus actors. A reparative justice framework directs this counter-mapping of the University’s multiple landscapes.

Defining Reparative Justice

Reparative justice, like the more well known theory of restorative justice, is focused on “restoration, making things right…on repair of social injury,” but unlike restorative justice, which is usually associated with individual criminal law or transitional justice efforts, reparative justice offers a useful term for the analysis of state and institutional wrong-doing.4 Political scientist Ernesto Verdeja’s definition of reparative justice provides a framework for understanding the potentials of counter-mapping the University’s landscapes: “The goal of a critical theory of reparative justice should be to secure victims’ sense of dignity and moral worth in ways that are compatible with social justice and equality.” Reparative justice, Verdeja explains, can involve two types of acknowledgement—symbolic (e.g., official apologies, public atonement, commemoration of victims) or material (e.g., financial restitution, educational compensation)—and two categories of recipient—collective or individual.5

In the case of the University, it is the institution, as the offender, that must provide both types of acknowledgement for the collective group of Black Chapel Hill citizens, including descendants of permanent residents as well as Black students and alumni, who have been denied their humanity through a variety of state- and institution-sanctioned mechanisms of anti-Black violence and discrimination. Reparative justice is, as philosopher Janna Thompson explains, “not merely [a] restoration of rights and property or compensation for injury. It must be expanded to include acknowledgment of suffering caused by the injustice, apology from institutions or persons who did the wrong, and acts designed to restore relationships that were damaged by the injustice.”6 A deliberate reparative justice praxis as outlined by both Verdeja and Thompson can establish a reparative justice cultural paradigm.

But what would reparative justice at the University look and sound like? What specific constructions, policies, and cultural processes would need to come from within the University to inaugurate a reparative justice paradigm within its multiple landscapes of experience? I argue for three major constructions and policies to be enacted as essential to a reparative justice praxis at the University. First, I outline the establishment of a truth commission to research and address the true relationship between the University and Black citizens of Chapel Hill, extending from the institution’s origins within the era of enslavement through to its protection of white supremacist gatherings in the twenty-first century. Drawing on legal studies of truth commissions and a ground-breaking historical commission that explores the connections between the University of Virginia and the legacy of enslavement, I explain how a truth commission at the University would be a decisive step forward in building a counter-institution through changed policies, and potentially initiating steps towards reconciliation between Black Chapel Hill citizens and the institution.

Second, relying on scholarship from critical university studies and memory studies, I describe the creation of a counter-campus as a site of future reconciliation, proposing a series of changes to the campus landscape in ways that seek to honor the histories of Black freedom striving at the University with attention towards the breaking of racialized boundaries of belonging and ownership. Third, I argue for the establishment of reparations for Black Chapel Hill citizens, engaging arguments first forwarded by the UNC Housekeepers Association to explain the specific assemblies necessary to provide restitution for the harms committed by the institution. Together, these three policies introduce a potential counter-mapping for the University’s landscapes within a reparative justice paradigm, beginning the difficult task of untying the direction of the University’s future from its past.

The Counter-Institution: A Truth Commission for the Institutional Landscape

Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth Statement of Purpose in the John Kenyon Chapman Papers #5441, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When the Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth (CHAT) applied for recognition as a student organization in November 2005 they explained that their “objectives are to generate a more accurate and truthful understanding of the university’s history…A greater awareness of the university’s role in the perpetuation of slavery, Jim Crow, and other injustices should be the basis for corrective action, and we will work to see that the university community engages in a process of truth telling, restorative justice, and reconciliation.”7 In other words, CHAT proposed to serve as the University’s first truth commission, a body which would address the University’s history truthfully in order to repair the injustices still operating within the present institutional landscape. It was tall order for any organization, especially one comprised primarily of white graduate students and staff. But the goal of CHAT—to ensure that the University take corrective action for the abuses in its past through the creation of an informal truth commission—is crucial to recognize, because it orients the University towards a broad exploration of the facts of its past and advances the institution and Black Chapel Hill citizens towards potential reconciliation. Since 2005, the University’s reactions to the movements for Hurston Hall and the removal of the Confederate Monument have demonstrated that there is perhaps a greater need than ever before to establish a comprehensive truth commission for the University.

There is no single definition of what constitutes a truth commission, let alone what would constitute a truth commission for a body not recognized as a state or country. Nevertheless, Priscilla Hayner’s definition of the objective of a truth commission, offered in her capacity as co-founder of the International Center for Transitional Justice, is practical for application for the University. According to Hayner, the broad mandate of a truth commission is “to address the past in order to change policies, practices, and even relationships in the future, and to do so in a manner that respects and honors those who were affected by the abuses.”8 Hayner’s definition is aligned with Verdeja and Thompson’s definitions of a critical theory of reparative justice, which outline the need for apology and acknowledgement from the offender in addition to changed policies for restitution.

Map of Historically Black Neighborhoods in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, May 1944, Appendix in John K. Chapman, Black Freedom and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1793-1960, (Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2006), vi.

Hayner outlines the features of what constitutes a truth commission as “(1) focused on the past, rather than ongoing, events; (2) investigates a pattern of events that took place over a period of time; (3) engages directly and broadly with the affected population, gathering information on their experiences; (4) is a temporary body, with the aim of concluding with a final report; and (5) is officially authorized or empowered by the state under review.” Their aims usually extend far beyond their titular goal to state the truth, and often are tasked “to address the needs of victims; to ‘counter impunity’ and advance individual accountability, to outline institutional responsibility and recommend reforms; to promote reconciliation and reduce conflict over the past.” Although truth commissions may differ in their specific investigatory mandates and capacities, they focus largely on narrative accounts given by the injured party, usually “collecting thousands of testimonies, and honoring these truths in a public and officially sanctioned report.”9

The expanse of these features and aims of truth commissions indicates that there are many potential ways to structure a truth commission for the University. The configurations that I propose are directed by the need expressed by Black citizens to reclaim ownership of the University and its history as their own. This need is summarized in a statement given by the Real Silent Sam Coalition in April 2012 regarding the demand to historically contextualize McCorkle Place: “when we stepped on to this campus…we became a part of a history—a deep, rich history that is in the walls, and the graves, and the grounds of this campus.”10 Using Hayner’s five defining features of truth commissions, I outline what the purposes and goals of a potential truth commission for the University might entail, similar and separate from Hayner’s definition:

(1) focused on the past, rather than ongoing, events;

A truth commission for the University will focus on the relationship between Black Chapel Hill citizens—all Black persons who have worked for, attended, or taught at the University—and the institution—its “routines, procedures, conventions, roles, strategies, organizational forms, and technologies”—from its founding in 1789 to the present.11 This attention to past and ongoing events therefore differs from Hayner’s definition. By refusing to deny the ways in which past events are still operating in the University’s present, the commission will explore the various mechanisms the University employed to secure the permanent status of Black people as non-human throughout the operation of the institution. Indeed, one of the most important features that would mark this new truth commission as distinct from previous institutional efforts at historical truth-telling (e.g., the Slavery and Making of the University exhibit in 2005 or the Remembering Reconstruction conference in 2004) would be its broad mandate to engage with all eras of the University’s history.

Black laborers constructing Murphey Hall, 1922 in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection Collection #P0004, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

(2) investigates a pattern of events that took place over a period of time;

Events the commission could investigate include, but should not be limited to: the enslavement and sale of Black persons by the University, its leadership, students, and alumni; the benefits reaped by the institution from the free labor of Black persons pre- and post-Emancipation; the role of the institution in perpetuating white supremacy in North Carolina’s political and social spheres; the effect of racial discrimination on Black economic mobility, land and home ownership, and educational attainment in Chapel Hill and North Carolina; the impact of institutional anti-Black policies and practices on Black students; the operational systems which denied equal rights and privileges to Black students and workers, especially regarding the autonomy of Black-created spaces and Black exclusion from the University’s cultural practices; and the ways in which the University sought to contain the dissemination of the histories of Black freedom striving and subjugate Black student and worker movements for racial justice.

(3) engages directly and broadly with the affected population, gathering information on their experiences;

The membership of the truth commission should include Black workers, faculty, students, and alumni, representatives from Chapel Hill’s major Black organizations, residents of Chapel Hill’s Black neighborhoods, local and institutional historians, and institutional representatives. It should, as part of its exploration of the relationship between Black citizens and the University, engage a variety of sources to fully investigate the legacy of each event. It will be crucial for the commission to emphasize in the gathering of testimonies the multivalent nature of individuals’ relationships to the institution, while still considering how systems of racism and discrimination resonate through a longer and collective experience with institutional anti-Blackness in Chapel Hill.12

(4) is a temporary body, with the aim of concluding with a final report;

The resulting product of the truth commission, which should last no more than ten years (depending on the events to be investigated and the resources allotted to the commission), should be a report on the University’s historical relationship to Black Chapel Hill citizens. The report should include, at the very least, a full accounting of the events the commission is tasked to investigate and acknowledgement of and apology for the University’s responsibilities in enacting anti-Black violence and discrimination. It should also include recommendations for institutional reforms to address the stated needs of the injured groups, atonements necessary to redress past institutional impunity, and potential programs or policies that promote reconciliation.

(5) is officially authorized or empowered by the state under review.

The truth commission should be authorized by the University and empowered to fully investigate all events it is charged to research. This is perhaps the most difficult feature of a truth commission to imagine aligning with the potential for a truth commission for the University, especially when provided with the history of the ways in which the institution has sought to conceal its racist history. While it might be possible to authorize a truth commission through a body not connected to the University’s administration, it is almost certain that the commission would be less successful in achieving its goals without institutional or state support.

March for Justice after the Greensboro Massacre to protest the April 15th verdict in the Klan-Nazi trial, 4 May 1984. Photo from the Greensboro News & Record.

The outcome of the first truth and reconciliation process to operate in the United States, the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC), demonstrates the necessity of authorization by the state or institution under review. The GTRC was developed in 2004 from the grassroots of the Greensboro, North Carolina community to address the killing and wounding of over a dozen members of the Communist Workers Party by members of the Ku Klux Klan at a protest in November 1979 and the subsequent state cover-up of the killings. Although the five hundred page report was rigorously researched, condemning the Ku Klux Klan, the Greensboro Police Department, and the City of Greensboro for the events and their concealment, the predominantly white City Council of Greensboro refused to implement the GTRC’s recommendations, providing a mere statement of regret over the November 1979 events.13 For a truth commission for the University to be able to fully implement the recommendations of its report, the University’s administration should authorize the commission to fulfill its mandates.14

Historical Commissions at American Colleges and Universities

The potentials for the truth commission for the University outlined above are adaptable beyond even the features Hayner delineates, and should be thought of as flexible in construction and focus, but not in their objective to address the institution’s history in order to create policies and practices which acknowledge, honor, and provide restitution for Black citizens of Chapel Hill. There have been no truth commissions yet established at any institutions of higher education in the United States, but there have been dozens of historical commissions. The first of these historical commissions, Brown University’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, was launched in 2003 under the auspices of President Ruth Simmons to examine “the University’s historical entanglement with slavery and the slave trade and to report our findings openly and truthfully.”15 Since 2003, over forty historically and predominantly white colleges and universities across the United States (concentrated on the East Coast) have established commissions, committees, task forces, and councils to explore the relationship between their institution and enslavement.16

Slavery and Justice: Report of the Brown University Steering Commission on Slavery & Justice, 2006.

The number of universities willing to investigate their histories with enslavement has increased dramatically, such that in 2015, the national consortium Universities Studying Slavery officially formed and is now open to “any school seeking to confront its own historical legacies.”17 Though these historical commissions differ greatly in purpose, purview, resources, and outcomes, they have all so far been primarily focused on researching the institutional connections to “slavery, the slave trade, or the racist legacies of slavery.” Some institutions have published scholarly texts or full historical reports on the findings of their research, but most historical commissions are generally tasked with reproducing their research findings into a single easily accessible format, such as a multi-day conference, a physical monument on the campus, or a website displaying archival documents that illustrate the institution’s ties to enslavement.18 These historical commissions are principally concerned with conducting historical research and publicly interpreting their findings, a traditionally scholarly process boldly termed in many of their founding documents as an effort to confront or even atone for the past. Very few white institutions have sought to examine the history of anti-Black discrimination and violence on their campuses post-Emancipation or understand the experiences of Black students at their institutions during the era of desegregation. Even fewer have sought to use the legacy of their institution’s past as a way towards acknowledgement, apology, atonement, or reconciliation.

While institutional historical commissions should not be confused for truth commissions, they might be best understood as their embryonic forms. One of these historical commissions—the University of Virginia’s (UVA) President’s Commission on Slavery and the University (PCSU)—has moved the farthest in their practices towards Hayner’s definitional features of a truth commission. PCSU bears examination when considering the potential construction of a truth commission at the University of North Carolina in part because of the historical similarities between the two institutions as historically and predominantly white flagship public institutions in the South, but more so because PCSU offers specific policies that the University of North Carolina might consider for implementation in Chapel Hill.

The University of Virginia’s Presidential Commission on Slavery and the University

The roots for PCSU’s creation were set in February 2007 when the Virginia General Assembly passed Virginia Joint Resolution 728, which expressed “profound regret” for the state’s role in slavery.19 Two months later, UVA’s Board of Visitors issued its own statement of regret for the University’s involvement with slavery and approved the installation of a plaque to honor the “several hundred women and men, both free and enslaved, whose labor between 1817 and 1826 helped to realize Thomas Jefferson’s design for the University of Virginia.”20 The statements of regret and the plaque, like the University of North Carolina’s belated 2018 apology for enslavement and the Unsung Founders Memorial, were roundly criticized for their inadequacies. By 2013, there was enough pressure on President Teresa Sullivan to create PCSU, an official historical commission to “explore and report on UVA’s historical relationship with slavery, highlighting opportunities for recognition and commemoration.”21

President’s Commission on Slavery and the University Final Report, University of Virginia, July 2018.

Although the directive for PCSU said nothing of atonement or reconciliation, their work eventually evolved to be “deeply informed by a similar restorative justice model” to the South African truth and reconciliation commission and to make amends beyond hollow statements of regret. For PCSU, this meant first brokering fractured connections to the Black community of Charlottesville, which, like the Black community of Chapel Hill, had been systematically segregated from the intellectual and social life of the University and exploited for their labor. “We learned very quickly that it is a mistake to understand UVA (or any other university) as walled off from the community in which it is embedded,” PCSU reflected in their final July 2018 report. Community engagement formed the foundation of PCSU’s early efforts to examine the legacy of slavery in Charlottesville and to “acknowledge past wrongs, repair relationships, and build trust.” 22

Their Community Relations Task Force, comprised of PCSU members, local advisory board members, alumni, and community members, sought to foster connections to Black civic and educational groups in Charlottesville to share institutionally-held and locally-held knowledge with each other, as well as to take beginning steps towards building trust. To ensure that historical knowledge became mutually held, PCSU members created several interdisciplinary courses, held both on and off the campus, for undergraduates and Charlottesville residents to examine the history of slavery and its legacy at UVA and participate in and contribute to ongoing research efforts. The focus of these courses, in addition to teaching and learning the history of slavery at UVA, also examined “twentieth and twenty-first century UVA and Charlottesville, and the issues of segregation and integration, reconciliation and repair,” highlighted in Charlottesville after the violent white supremacist rally and counter-rally in August 2017.23

Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, University of Virginia, Mock-up image by Höweler + Yoon, Photo from UVA Today, 9 June 2017.

The research initiatives into the history of slavery at UVA and in Charlottesville have been conducted through a variety of historical sources, drawing not just on institutionally- and state-held archival documents, but on the stories of Black freedom striving passed down generationally by Black citizens of Charlottesville. One of the major outcomes of utilizing local histories supplemented by archival documents is the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, an addition to UVA’s commemorative landscape which will serve as a salient reminder that UVA’s historical legacy is tied to lives of Black people who built the campus. Although the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers will be the major visible achievement of PCSU, UVA will “continue to expand their current efforts and interpretations of early life at UVA.” Thus, PCSU is continuing to work with community members in Charlottesville on the demanding task of refiguring UVA’s campus landscape.24

The work of PCSU did not involve historical research of events post-Emancipation, which it recognized as a shortcoming of its mandate and its work. The Community Relations Task Force suggested to the leadership of PCSU that the work of the commission be continued past its five-year end-point in 2018 in the form of another commission—the President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation (PCUAS)—in effect extending the work of PCSU past its falsely static 1865 deadline.25 A majority of PCSU’s recommendations for future efforts involved “further meaningful connections and dialogue between the University and its many stakeholders, especially those who have felt disenfranchised, distrustful, and invisible…the process that must begin is one that involves some sort of reconciliation or repair.”26 PCUAS will continue to move UVA towards actions which might better constitute it primarily as a truth commission, rather than as an historical commission. The efforts that UVA has undertaken to move the institution towards reparative justice actions and outcomes confirm PCSU/PCUAS as the best existing model for a potential truth commission for the University of North Carolina. Although the PCSU initiatives explained above are not a holistic report on their programs or their successes and deficiencies, they do provide an index of practices for the University of North Carolina to consider.

The first of these practices involves learning from the failings of previous institutional efforts to acknowledge involvement with enslavement (e.g., Unsung Founders Memorial and Chancellor Folt’s apology for enslavement). Second, to foster connections with local Black communities and other historically injured groups to eventually build trust and share historical resources between the institution and the community or groups. Third, to incorporate teaching and learning as crucial aspects of research products and outcomes. Fourth, to rely on multiple kinds of historical knowledge to fully research and examine the events under investigation. And finally, to not permit the limits on the mandate or erroneously static time periods to curtail efforts towards reparative justice. With such practices in place, enacted in ways which accommodate the specific histories of injustice in Chapel Hill and operate in a body with the features of a truth commission, the University might finally ensure that it takes corrective action for the abuses in its past, potentially securing past and present Black Chapel Hill citizens with a sense of dignity and humanity and engaging in the “process of truth telling, restorative justice, and reconciliation” imagined by CHAT.27

The Counter-Campus: Refiguring the Campus Landscape

At the Remembering Reconstruction conference in October 2004, Yonni Chapman delivered a lecture titled “Seeking Historical Truth at UNC,” drawing on the themes of historical accuracy and collective memory that he had shared with Kristi Booker five years earlier. After explaining how the historical legacy of the University’s Reconstruction era leadership remained active in the present life of the University, Chapman asked his audience to “imagine, if you will, a campus transformed by a sense of social justice.” Chapman then launched the audience on a tour of a transformed commemorative landscape, beginning with entry to the campus from Franklin Street:

“…past Silent Sam, we would come to the statue in front of the Alumni Building honoring UNC’s Unsung Founders, the black workers, slave and free, who built Old East and other university buildings. Approaching Saunders Hall we would note a plaque stating that Saunders led the KKK during Reconstruction and served on the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees at the time of the reopening….Across the quad in Murphy [sic] we would visit a comparable display about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, and other democratic social movements at UNC. Upon entering Lenoir, we would see a plaque honoring the black workers and students who participated in the cafeteria workers strike of 1969… As we continued our walk around the campus, we would notice that the portraits and artwork on the walls honored the heritage and contributions of all those who were formerly limited and denied by the University of North Carolina.”28

Chapman’s vision of a transformed campus, with monuments to the movements and individuals he believed required remembering is still unrealized, though since 2004, we have seen campus organizers engage in actions to challenge spaces within the commemorative landscape. These actions demonstrate the need to broadly refigure the campus landscape to reflect a changed institutional landscape if the University is to move into a reparative justice paradigm.

Although Chapman’s call for a “more democratic and more honest” commemorative landscape is a crucial step forward, there is a need for greater attentiveness to the movement to transform the entire campus landscape by constructing new physical monuments and memorials to the aspects of the institution’s history that we might want to remember and honor. Further consideration is needed because a transformed commemorative landscape will not be a sufficient alteration to construct a campus landscape which would create the conditions for a reclamation of the University as a place of humanity for Black Chapel Hill citizens. Geographers Derek H. Alderman and Owen J. Dwyer explain that “commemorative landscapes obviously represent narratives about history, but it is wrong to see them as completely couched in the past…Rather than having a fixed, static meaning, material sites of memory are in a constant process of being rewritten as present social needs and ideological interests–including the growing social importance placed on racial diversity and multiculturalism–change. Memorials and monuments fall in and out of favor as opinions about the past shift.”29

We must understand that whatever alterations we might make to the campus landscape will be rewritten, and similarly, we must recognize that the current iteration of the campus landscape demands to be refigured to accord with a shift in institutional culture. While changes to the commemorative landscape of the campus are inevitable (and indeed, in the case of the Confederate Monument, were necessary and vital), it is imperative to reflect on how the white supremacy of the University’s cultural landscape has racially bound the campus in ways the enforce the exclusion of Black people and how we might break those boundaries through transformations of the campus landscape, questions which do not directly engage with the issue of commemoration.

In this section, I consider two approaches to the creation of a counter-campus as a landscape for the commemoration of the legacy of Black freedom striving and the breaking of racialized boundaries in Chapel Hill. The goal that both approaches work towards is the transformation of the University’s campus landscape as a site of reparative justice and potentially as a site of reconciliation. First, I explore the possibilities of traditional approaches to commemoration “through the material sites of memory…e.g. street signs, historical markers and plaques, monuments, and statues,” citing plans offered by previous student movements, focusing largely on commemorative changes.30 Drawing from scholarship on public commemoration and the numerous example of student-made alternative monuments, I next investigate new directions in commemoration and consider the additions of ephemeral commemorative spaces and the installation of counter-monuments, which produce a more democratized collective memory and spatial belonging than traditional approaches to commemoration. Finally, I conclude by explaining how the creation of a counter-campus would shift the University’s built landscape towards a place which inscribes the humanity and dignity of Black people and opens up possibilities for the crafting of a new sense of place, providing part of the essential foundation for a reparative justice paradigm.

The Commemorative Campus Landscape

As this dissertation has shown, every racial justice movement at the University has engaged in a dual refiguring of both the campus and institutional landscapes of the University through their organizing. With the decoration of Saunders Hall by Students Seeking Historical Truth in 1999, organizers began to pursue a specific goal to contest the white supremacy of the University’s commemorative landscape, which can be understood as “the material sites of memory” on the campus, “composed of landmarks that provide spatial and temporal coordinates for remembering.”31 Saunders Hall, the Unsung Founders Memorial, and the Confederate Monument can be understood as only three of hundreds of landmarks within the built landscape, inscribed as sites of memory. In addition to contesting these aspects of the commemorative landscape, organizers have also mobilized towards reparative justice on the campus landscape, usually in the form of a monument to the legacy of Black freedom striving in Chapel Hill.

The vision for these monuments has been different for each movement, beginning with the Black Student Movement, which in 1997, demanded that “the University officially recognize the slaves which built the University in the form of a statue or monument.”32 Students Seeking Historical Truth called for “a monument to the contributions that Blacks have made to this university,” located “somewhere very visible, like Polk Place or right in front of Saunders Hall.”33 The Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth petitioned for a process to “commemorate the historic 1969 Lenoir Cafeteria workers’ strike by, among other things, placing a plaque honoring the workers, their leaders, and their allies on the front entrance to Lenoir Hall.”34 Following the installment of the Unsung Founders Memorial and critiques that it homogenized the identities of the enslaved, the Real Silent Sam Coalition (RSSC) called in 2012 for an additive monument “of equal size and prominence to the Confederate Monument,” which would honor a specific Black individual, rather than “a mass of unnamed people.” RSSC suggested that the University consider “for this honor” either Abraham Galloway, a former enslaved man who became a Union spy, militant abolitionist, and North Carolina state Senator; Zora Neale Hurston, the folklorist and documentarian; or the civil rights activist, lawyer, and priest from Durham, North Carolina, Pauli Murray.35 For the later iteration of RSSC, Taylor Webber-Fields explained that in 2015, the organization “petitioned for there to be a plaque there [Saunders Hall] that would recognize the student activity that had had the hall renamed,” which, if created, would have been a powerful representation of the Black reclamation of the University’s history.36

While any of these proposed monuments and plaques to the legacy of Black freedom striving at the University would contribute to the destabilizing of the “diversity without justice” paradigm, it is important to consider the purpose of these proposed monuments.37 Alderman and Dwyer explain that “commemorative landscapes influence how people remember and value the past, in part, because of their apparent permanence and the common impression that they are impartial recorders of history. In reality, these landscapes narrate history in selective and controlled ways—hiding as well as revealing.”38 In considering additions of physical monuments or plaques, we need to question how and in what ways a new addition to the commemorative landscape fulfills a dedication to engage in truth-telling about the past to address policies and practices in the present. Similarly, the same questions should be directed at current features of the University’s commemorative landscape which might necessitate removal, renaming, or contextualization in the form of a plaque or marker. We must consider how potential additive objects operate within the paradox of commemoration: though monuments are erected under the illusory promise of their permanence, the malleability of memory insures that the meaning of monuments (or any feature of a commemorative landscape) will shift and the monument itself will be ignored, moved, or otherwise altered.39

Ephemeral Monuments

What physical additions to the commemorative landscape will help the University to truly reflect (rather than falsely project) its commitment to practice reparative justice? How can we  transform the campus landscape from a place that broadly honors the legacy of white supremacy into a place that we can learn from and within? And how might we create additions to the built landscape which do not just “give the past a tangibility and familiarity” through a false sense of fixity, but fundamentally change our relationship to the site and situation of the addition, refiguring the racially bounded spaces of the campus landscape?40 To answer these questions, we might consider a departure from traditional approaches to commemoration through the permanent installation of physical objects of remembrance and move towards a more radical reflection on why we build monuments and how we experience them. A new approach to commemoration, which works against the established concept of monuments or other objects of commemoration as static and enduring is needed to situate monuments against the traditional and mythical timelessness and grandiosity of their subjects.

Students re-create an embodied Unsung Founders Memorial in the Pit, Photo by Jay Peterkin in The Daily Tar Heel, 25 September 2014.

One new approach is the installation of ephemeral monuments, which “dispel the illusion of permanence,” and “embrace uncertainty” in their form, purpose, situationality, and site. Ephemeral monuments function through interaction with their audience and are designed to change and disperse over time. Most exist as temporary installations, created by artists who are free to create without the risk of their project being locked in place (and time) for a foreseeable future. Historian Kirk Savage explains that with the addition of ephemeral monuments to our national commemorative landscapes, “designers would be freer to embrace difference and pursue new perspectives. More voices would find room for expression. Inspired by rotating content, visitors to these memorial spaces might start to ask themselves what they would like to see represented there.” Ephemeral monuments—as either temporary installations, performance art, or reinterpretations of current physical commemorative objects—operate to create “a more open, democratic sphere of public memory—an ongoing conversation rather than a quest for some kind of immutable ‘identity.’”41

For the University, ephemeral monument-making would enable the individuals who have been excluded from the cultural landscape of the campus to inscribe their identities onto and into the built landscape, which for so long has overwhelmingly reflected the history of the institution that operated to prohibit their claims to self-possession. Black students and workers could individually or in groups plan, design, and create monuments which recognize the histories of social justice movements at the University, highlighting the individuals, events, and spaces which have or could move the University towards a new cultural landscape. In this way, ephemeral monuments offer a potential method by which we might break the racialized boundaries of space, creating installations in spaces previously dedicated to the preservation of white supremacy (e.g., South Building, Memorial Hall, among others), and allow Black students and workers to reclaim these spaces as sites dedicated to Black creation and movement-making. These ephemeral monuments acknowledge that the way we make meaning of the University’s history continually shifts, while also granting the built landscape the license and physical space to change as the ideologies of future generations of campus actors at the University also seek to refigure the campus. Indeed, one of the most constructive aspects of ephemeral monument-making is their scalability to the space they occupy and their sustainability, inherent in their refusal to accept the myth of their own permanence.


In addition to ephemeral monuments, we might also consider the addition of counter-monuments, physical objects of commemoration that insist the viewer reflect on their own memories, rather than seeking to force a codified version of history onto the viewer.42 Counter-monuments attempt to remember through viewers’ personal engagement with the past, usually for the purpose of reshaping the collective memory of a nation, or in the case of Chapel Hill, an institution. James E. Young, scholar of memory studies and the Holocaust, coined the term “counter-monument” to describe the “brazen, painfully self-conscious memorial spaces conceived to challenge the very premises of their being” which were erected in post-Holocaust Germany in the 1980s and 1990s. The primary function of the counter-monuments that Young describes are to “jar viewers from complacency and to challenge and denaturalize the viewers’ assumptions.”43

Counter-monuments are, therefore, likely to be abstract depictions of their subjects, and do not usually represent an image, individual, or clear message. Some call for their audiences to directly engage with their materials, inviting viewers to write on or otherwise tangibly interact with or alter their physical components. All engage their viewers, often with intentionally created discomfort, in the emotional acts of personal memory and placement of the self within the legacy of the past.44 The addition of counter-monuments on the campus landscape invites us to question what we know of the past of the University and how we receive the legacy of the past in our present. Like ephemeral monuments, counter-monuments invite creators with an alternative knowledge of the history of the University to create objects which unsettle what we know of the institution’s past and what we feel when we are within the campus landscape, offering possibilities for the breaking of the racial boundaries of space. And because counter-monuments do not seek to canonize or codify history, their eventual alteration or displacement is incorporated into the vision for their creation, which insures a kind of sustainability for their existence inconsistent with our traditional notions of commemoration, but practical for the future.

Removal of the Confederate Monument with a counter-monument to victims of anti-Black violence, 20 August 2018. Photo from

We might also examine past campus movements’ advocacy for and use of alternative forms of commemoration as we consider the addition of ephemeral and counter-monuments to the campus landscape. SSHT, in their 1999 decoration of Saunders Hall, created their “own memorial to show what Saunders was: a murderer, a slave owner and the emperor of the KKK.”45 Gerald Horne, the former director of the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, argued in 2000 that following the removal of the Confederate Monument, we ought to “plant in its place a tree symbolizing racial tolerance.”46 RSSC effectively used performance in their “disruption of space,” “using [their] bodies as reminders and eulogies for folks,” as an embodied form of counter-memorialization.47 And of course, the banners used to cover the Confederate Monument during its toppling in August 2018 provide a critical example of the use of an “alternative monument” to reclaim the University as place “without white supremacy.”48

The addition of ephemeral monuments and counter-monuments both provide potential directions to consider for creating a counter-campus, and should be evaluated within the context of the University’s current commemorative landscape, aspects of which will require removal or alteration. The creation of a counter-campus, as a site within which the University can reflect its responsibility to practice reparative justice, could be designed in an infinite number of ways, utilizing a mix of both traditional approaches to commemoration in the form of additive commemorative objects and more radical approaches which disrupt our notions of personal memory and spatial fixedness. Regardless of how a counter-campus might be drafted and constructed, we must remember that the campus landscape can and will be remapped to accord with shifts in institutional culture. Whatever changes might be brought in service to a reparative justice cultural paradigm will eventually be amended and erased.

Despite this certainty, the demand to create a counter-campus which breaks the racialized boundaries of the University remains an imperative if we are to support the refiguring of a campus and institution which recognizes the humanity and dignity of Black Chapel Hill citizens and atones for the injustices in the University’s racist past and present. A counter-campus must be designed and created with the leadership of Black Chapel Hill citizens and other excluded groups in order to open the possibility of reclamation of the University as a place directed by the legacy of Black freedom striving; it cannot be imagined or built within white institutional power structures. A counter-campus is a crucial element of enacting a reparative justice praxis and building trust between the institution and those it has injured.

Reparations: The Last First Step Towards Reconciliation

The UNC Housekeepers Association (HKA) explained in their “modest proposal” for settlement in 1996 that the University had never sought to “redress the great injustices and exploitations of the African American Community which built, cleaned, and maintained the University’s physical buildings, but were not permitted to benefit from the intellectual development going on within its walls.” In the two decades that have passed since Chancellor Hooker dismissed the housekeepers’ initial proposal for settlement, it remains true that the University has not fully sought to “acknowledge certain painful historical and current facts” nor has it made the “promises, agreements, and considerations to resolve the issues” of anti-Black discrimination and the ways in which the institution has regarded Black citizens as property.49

A Modest Proposal, February 1996 in the John Kenyon Chapman Papers #5441, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Although the notion of reparations offered by a major American institution to Black citizens is not illusory (and perhaps is more feasible than at any time this century since the publication of journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates’s acclaimed article for The Atlantic, “The Case for the Reparations”), the conversation begun by the HKA regarding the feasibility and legitimacy of material reparations for Chapel Hill’s Black citizens has not yet been initiated in the twenty-first century.50 The essential reparations policies forwarded by the HKA are crucial for us to examine, because they provide the specific strategies necessary for material restitution for the injustices the institution has committed against Black workers and students throughout its entire operation. Although conversation about the feasibility of the housekeepers’ reparative claims and the possibility of financial redress for Black Chapel Hill citizens may have receded, it is imperative to establish an extensive reparations program at the University in order to fully initiate a reparative justice paradigm.

Philosopher Margaret Urban Walker defines reparations as “intentionally reparative actions in which goods (material or interactive) are tendered to victims of wrong by parties that acknowledge responsibility for wrongs or for their repair and whose reparative actions are intended to redress those wrongs as a question of justice.”51 It is this definition of reparations that guides us towards the development of a modern reparations plan for the University, which focuses specifically on material goods (e.g., financial compensation) in addition to symbolic reparative acts which focus on acknowledgement of and atonement for past injustices (e.g., truth commissions). While material reparations can be construed as symbolic in that they convey the expressive dimension of tendering apology via goods, it is crucial in the case of the University that reparative actions which tender material goods to the injured parties be given in addition to the acts of acknowledgement, truth-telling, and landscape reclamation explained in previous sections.52 Material reparations are the last step in initiating an understandably lengthy process of building trust between the institution and Black Chapel Hill citizens towards a reparative justice paradigm shift and a process of reconciliation. Because material reparations programs must be designed following the receipt of symbolic reparations and, then, must be arranged only between the injured group and the offender, it is impractical to offer here specific economic assemblies of what material reparations should look like. Instead, this section explores several critical features of a potential material reparations program between the University and Black Chapel Hill citizens.

To begin to build a plan for material reparations, we must look closely at HKA’s “modest proposal,” which is the first attempt by Black citizens to gain material reparations from the University. HKA’s proposal for reparations included, first, the establishment of a Housekeeper Endowment Fund (HEF), which would be funded by “money with interest accumulated by the University from the escheats it realized from 1795-1971,” which included the sale of Black persons. The HEF would also be funded by revenue from the basketball and football teams, which HKA argued were financed through Black student labor. The HEF would then allocate “a one-time cash payment of $1,000 to the designated heir of every African American who worked for UNC-CH from 1793-1960.” The University would be responsible for establishing a career training program for all housekeepers to advance in their careers to more highly paid work, guaranteeing them better paid jobs after a certain period of training. It would also provide “free education from the age of 2 through the age of 21” for the children and grandchildren of housekeepers at schools sponsored by the University and at the University itself, and free health care to housekeepers and their children for “the rest of their lives.”53

Selection from Proposed Settlement Agreement, Tinnen et al. v. UNC-Chapel Hill in the John Kenyon Chapman Papers #5441, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The HKA’s reparations plan offers at least three critical aspects for our examination of a reparations program for the twenty-first century. First, the housekeepers’ call for reparations was not isolated to the harms enacted during the era of enslavement and, instead, incorporated into their proposal the full century after Emancipation in which white actors and institutions could kill, control, and seize Black people and Black-owned property with impunity. Second, the housekeepers pointed towards the ways in which both Black workers and Black students provide the labor and capital necessary to maintain the institution’s financial status. And third, they called for both educational and financial reparations from the institution. Each of these three aspects of HKA’s reparations plan offers important structures for the broadening of a reparations program for the University in the twenty-first century.

In the United States, reparations movements for Black Americans have largely focused on compensation for enslavement. Historian Ana Lucia Araujo explains that beginning in the 1890s, “thousands of former slaves petitioned the government of the United States to pass Bills providing them with pensions for the time they were enslaved.” Although no bill was ever passed and many of the individuals in the movement’s leadership were persecuted by the federal government, this movement began a national conversation regarding the possibilities of financial compensation for enslavement in particular. Even as groups like the Republic of New Afrika and the Reparations Committee for the Descendants of American Slaves began to articulate in the 1960s how the legacy of enslavement affected Black citizens without living memory of the pre-Emancipation period, the injustice of enslavement was still the focus of reparation efforts.54 But economists William A. Darity Jr. (a former professor at the University of North Carolina) and Dania Frank explain that in addition to enslavement, “another compelling pillar of the case for reparations for African Americans is the practice of nearly a century of state-sanctioned apartheid in the United States” and “unlike U.S. slaves, direct victims of Jim Crow practices are still living.”55

The HKA also argued for reparations for injustices committed both pre- and post-Emancipation, stating the need to compensate the descendants of injured individuals as well as the injured individuals themselves. Darity and Frank agree, arguing for “the suitability of reparations to compensate blacks for having been subjected to slavery, Jim Crow practices, and ongoing discrimination.”56 Although enslavement was a unique system of dehumanization separate from legalized discrimination and segregation, it remains essential that as we design a reparations program, we take care not enforce static time boundaries on the institution’s role in anti-Black practices, and to insure that we understand and seek recompense for injustices committed during every era in which systemic racism flourished, regardless of the specificity of the laws that maintained and supported that racism.

Michael Jordan (left) and Sam Perkins, in front of Confederate Monument, Photo by Lane Stewart in Curry Kirkpatrick, “A Towering Twosome,” Sports Illustrated, 28 November 1983.

With an expanded understanding of the systemic nature of racism as unbounded by historical era, the question of who might receive reparations from the University also broadens. Although HKA did not argue specifically for granting Black students the right to financial compensation, they did explain how the labor of Black student athletes in particular continued to finance the institution: “In fiscal year 1994, the unaudited report of Harper, Wiggins & Co. shows that the Athletic Department took in over $26 million…The Department’s revenues exceeded its budget by over $9 million in 1994…These astronomical profits have been the direct result of a series of African American basketball and football stars.”57 Even beyond athletics, Black students provide much of the diversity work for the University—circulating the positive image of racial diversity for the institution by the very fact of their racial identities—for which the institution receives economic and cultural commendations.58 Black students, then, as well as Black workers have been discriminated against without atonement or compensation from the institution. Although the specific nature of material reparations to be tendered from the institution might differ between Black workers and Black students (one might imagine, as one possible example, a retroactive tuition remission for Black alumni and free tuition for Black workers and their descendants), it is critical that the overall reparations program take into account discrimination against Black students as well as Black workers.

Lastly, the question of how to structure and implement a reparations programs is critical, though there are dozens of possibilities for how to provide material compensation for past injustices. The HKA argued for a hybrid reparations program, mixing elements of educational, occupational, and financial reparations policies. Together, these different policies ensure the success of material reparations towards the eventual goal of closure, which Darity explains as “the acknowledgement on the part of the victimized community that they have received a satisfactory act of compensation from the victimizers, and that they have no reason to request anything that’s specifically for their group in the future.”59 Georgetown University, which, along with the University of Virginia, has done the most of any American university towards restitution for descendants of formerly enslaved people, has initiated a new educational reparations program. Part of their program includes “preferential treatment” in admissions for descendants, though what constitutes this form of treatment is unclear.60

Selection regarding cash payment from Proposed Settlement Agreement, Tinnen et al. v. UNC-Chapel Hill in the John Kenyon Chapman Papers #5441, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The descendants of enslaved persons sold by Georgetown largely view this admissions policy as a “symbolic gesture,” not “commensurate with the epic atrocity committed and its subsequent impact on generations of descendants.”61 Although Georgetown has made significant strides towards reconciliation with the community of descendants, the institution has not given financial reparations to descendants of the enslaved persons sold by the university, though their endowment is, at the time of this writing, $1.6 billion dollars.62 The descendant community has criticized Georgetown for the lack of financial reparations they have offered. The reparations case at Georgetown University, though by no means finalized, provides an example of the potential issues that might arise with providing only one kind of material reparations.

Selection regarding free education from the University for children and grandchildren from Proposed Settlement Agreement, Tinnen et al. v. UNC-Chapel Hill in the John Kenyon Chapman Papers #5441, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Similarly, Darity and Frank explain the economic implications of only providing financial compensation, arguing that “without significant productive capacity [occupational or educational reparative actions] in place before [financial] reparations, a lump-sum payment could actually result in an absolute decline in black income.”63 It is, therefore, crucial to consider material reparations as a number of different possible tendered goods—cash payments, institution-operated career training programs, institution job guarantees, and free tuition for North Carolina’s Black citizens. Although the specific details of the material reparations program will need to be generated between the institution and the injured parties, it will be imperative that multiple kinds of material goods be provided by the institution to the Black citizens it has harmed.

A reparations program, which (1) seeks indemnity for injustices enacted by the University from its origin during enslavement to the present, (2) offers restitution for all former and current Black citizens of Chapel Hill, including Black students as well as Black workers, and (3) provides multiple forms of material reparations, is the last action necessary to initiate a cultural paradigm shift guided by reparative justice. It does not guarantee that reconciliation between the University and Black citizens of Chapel Hill can be reached, but it does move the institution forward towards their stated goal to be a public university representative of and in service to the state of North Carolina, and creates the conditions for Black citizens of Chapel Hill to secure a sense of dignity and have restored their rights to property-, place-, and self-possession.

Although there are numerous questions rightly applied to calls for reparations—how to establish criteria for eligibility, how to fund financial reparations, how to create the systems necessary for educational or occupational reparations—the University must take up its responsibility for atonement and restitution, working together with Black citizens to develop a suitably designed program.64 Together with the reclamation of a counter-institution through the establishment of a truth commission and a counter-campus through the refiguring of the campus landscape, reparations guide the University out of the “diversity without justice” paradigm and towards a cultural landscape oriented around reparative justice and furthering the goal of achieving reconciliation between the institution and the individuals and groups it has injured.65


The creation and implementation of a deliberate reparative justice praxis is the pivotal movement needed to build a University that Yonni Chapman imagined could “provide moral leadership to the state and nation,” and “teach by example the importance of confronting the past honestly to bring about a more just future.”66 I have argued for three major policies necessary to enact a beginning to a reparative justice paradigm towards the goal of a transformed University. First, we must establish a truth commission to explore the relationship between the University and anti-Black discrimination throughout its history towards the goal of repairing the racial injustices still operational in the present. Second, we need to broadly transform the campus landscape to reflect a changed institutional landscape, taking into consideration changes which produce a more democratized collective memory of Chapel Hill’s history and extend a sense of spatial belonging to the individuals and groups who have been excluded. Finally, the University must deliver material reparations to former and current Black citizens of Chapel Hill as a way to atone for past injustices, initiating a process of building trust and potentially reaching reconciliation. The establishment of a truth commission, the refiguring of the campus landscape, and the delivery of material reparations are each a massive undertaking for the institution, but all are necessary if the University is ever to operate as an institution guided not by its racist past and present, but by a future of reparative justice.

This dissertation has been aimed at helping readers understand how past racial justice movements at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have challenged the University’s dominant cultural landscape of white supremacy by creating and contesting space and by reclaiming the place of the University through the legacy of Black freedom striving in Chapel Hill. It has also aimed to provide possible answers to the question of how to transform the anti-Blackness of the institution’s past and present into a future determined by reparative justice. If this dissertation has succeeded, when we, as campus actors, ask ourselves “what binds us to this place as to no other?,” we can answer that we are united here by our responsibility to acknowledge and carry forward the history of Black freedom striving in Chapel Hill, and then to act, organizing collectively to demand a broad cultural shift to reclaim the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a place that can one day become “the University of the people.”67

“For A World Without White Supremacy” Counter-Monument Used to Topple the Confederate Monument, 20 August 2018. Photo from Crimethinc Ex-Workers Collective.

Download Conclusion: Reclaiming the University with a Reparative Justice Paradigm (Moving Forward) as a PDF.