May 7, 1860 Hall and Memorializing the Formerly Enslaved

“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” -Psalm 118:22

Dear Wake Divinity community,

Last summer, President Hatch established an Advisory Committee on Naming composed of Wake Forest faculty, administrators, staff, students, and Trustees. I, along with Trustee Donna Boswell, serve as co-chair of this advisory committee to the president. The advisory committee had three specific tasks: establish a set of guiding principles, conduct historical research, and consider new and meaningful ways to honor, remember, and contextualize those who might expand the narrative of Wake Forest in our lived environment.  

Through several subcommittees, faculty research clusters, and a series of Call to Conversation events, we provided President Hatch and the Board of Trustees a set of principles and findings to consider. 

Today you received a message from President Hatch regarding Board resolutions from the most recent April meeting. The Board unanimously voted to rename Wingate Hall to “May 7, 1860 Hall,” in solemn remembrance of the date Wake Forest sold 16 precious human beings at auction. In addition, the University will reframe Wait Chapel with a lasting memorial to narrate the story of May 7th and honor all who served this institution against their will, including Dicey and Hellen, the mother and daughter that Samuel and Sally Wait purchased in 1839.  The University will launch this memorialization process with an international design firm. 

To be sure, there will invariably be those who believe these actions are too extreme. Others will assert that these actions are insufficient. This tension is what it means to live in an increasingly diverse learning community like Wake Forest University. Such varying views contribute to the vibrancy of our intellectual life together, as we all try to expand our conception of Pro Humanitate. 

Yet by renaming the building that houses the School of Divinity to May 7, 1860 Hall, and reframing Wait Chapel with a lasting memorial to narrate this tragic history, we take an intentional and essential step.   Beyond acknowledging the University’s participation in slavery, Wake Forest is affirming the humanity and dignity of those who we for too long ignored. This step is one that we all can celebrate as we each seek to live out the spirit of Pro Humanitate in our lived environment. 

One Luv,

Jonathan Walton

Jonathan Lee Walton
Dean of the School of Divinity & Wait Chapel
Presidential Chair in Religion & Society

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