COLUMBIA, S.C. ― Clemson University trustees passed a resolution Friday calling the racist views of one of its founders, Benjamin Tillman, “repugnant to our values and our fundamental purpose,” but did not call for removing the name of the late governor and U.S. senator from a key campus building.
Instead, the trustees unanimously agreed to create a task force to study the Tillman issue for at least six months. The task force also will review other building names on campus and how the university presents its story.
The task force should also review how the university can better portray the ways in which minorities have helped the school grow, Clemson President Jim Clements said in a statement.
“Evaluating, discussing, critiquing and debating key issues are what great universities do to arrive at the best solutions,” Clements said. “Understanding and communicating the full story of Clemson’s history is an important part of creating a more inclusive and welcoming campus environment.”
Another school Tillman helped to establish, Winthrop University on Rock Hill, has a Tillman Hall.
In a statement, the school said it was committed to “taking command of a dark chapter in our past and denying it the power to divide us.”
“Our campus dialogue will continue this fall, and we will identify and act on campus initiatives that will have a long term impact and that will reflect Winthrop’s culture of diversity,” the statement said.
What happens next could also depend on the Legislature. As was the case with a law that recently ordered the Confederate battle flag removed from the Statehouse, any law to change the names of historical buildings or alter any monuments at the Statehouse or other public places around the state would require a two-thirds vote from lawmakers.
House Speaker Jay Lucas said Thursday that, as long as he is running the chamber, the House will not debate the specifics of public memorials or the names of monuments, streets or buildings.
Along with his key role in founding Clemson and Winthrop, Tillman also was a driving force in creating the current structure of South Carolina’s government. His view on race never mellowed.
From the Senate floor, Tillman bragged about his role in the Hamburg Massacre that killed seven black Republicans 24 years earlier, in 1876. The intimidation helped segregationists re-gain control of South Carolina’s government.
Back in February, months before the Confederate flag came down, Clemson Board of Trustees Chairman David Wilkins issued a statement saying it was time for the school to put the Tillman issue behind it.
“Every great institution is built by imperfect craftsmen,” Wilkins said. “Stone by stone they add to the foundation so that over many, many generations, we get a variety of stones. And so it is with Clemson. Some of our historical stones are rough and even unpleasant to look at. But they are ours and denying them as part of our history does not make them any less so.”