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Vanderbilt will pay $1.2 million to remove 'confederate' name from dorm

The Nashville-based university is giving back the United Daughters of the Confederacy a $1.2 million donation, too.

by Ruby Samuels
Aug 16 2016, 3:05pm

Le Memorial Hall de Vanderbilt. (Photo via vanderbilt.edu)

It's going to cost $1.2 million, but Vanderbilt University is finally going to etch out the "confederate" name from one of its residence halls.

The private university, founded in 1878 in Nashville, Tennessee, will change "Confederate Memorial Hall" to simply "Memorial Hall," ending a 14-year legal battle with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which donated $50,000 to build the dormitory in 1933.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy sued Vanderbilt in 2002 after its first attempt to rename the building "Memorial Hall." Three years later, a Tennessee appeals court ruled that the building's inscription could be edited if the donation was returned at its current value of $1.2 million.

In the past year, anonymous donors have given the university the money needed to erase the word, and the Vanderbilt Board of Trustees approved the change this summer.

"We think rewriting history is just terrible. And I think it's a very sad day for a school with that kind of reputation to be condoning that," said Attorney Doug Jones, who represents the Daughters of the Confederacy.

But Vanderbilt's Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, who announced the renaming decision on Monday, thinks about history differently: "We are not saying this is not part of Vanderbilt's history," he said. "I think we teach history by how we talk about these events."

This is the sort of step that several schools in the South, and elsewhere, are beginning to take. For example, Georgetown University recently discovered that 272 slaves were sold in 1838 to raise money to prevent the school from closing, and is now trying to identify and honor the history of those slaves' descendants.

Another school, Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, is looking into changing the name of a building named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a KKK co-founder.

"It hopefully says we have listened, we have made changes. But I don't think we should assume that our work is completed in any way," Zeppos said.