Clemson removes name of slave owner from its honors college

The university has rebranded the former John C. Calhoun Honors College

The Clemson University Board of Trustees voted Friday morning to remove the name of former U.S. Vice President and slave owner John C. Calhoun from the school’s Honor College.

In a Friday morning meeting, the vote was unanimous to remove the name after a recommendation from Provost Bob Jones, according to The Greenville News.

The trustees also approved a resolution respectfully requesting authority from the South Carolina General Assembly to restore Tillman Hall to its original name of the Main Building, commonly called “Old Main.”

The rebranding took place immediately Friday morning.

The board of 13 trustees and five of its emeritus trustees supported the name change, board member E. Smyth McKissick told the newspaper.

“Clemson must also recognize that there are central figures in Clemson’s history whose beliefs and actions do not represent the university’s core values ... and as our values guide us, we are listening,” McKissick said.

The vote follows a petition, Reclaim and Rename, that invited university officials to take the first step toward making the institution more welcoming to all races by changing the college's name.

“I am writing to demand that the Calhoun Honors College be renamed. Clemson has a complicated history, populated by several figures— such as Benjamin Tillman and John C. Calhoun — whose legacies of racist hatred and brutality exemplify white supremacist values,” the petition letter reads. “Chiefly, John C. Calhoun is best remembered as an advocate of slavery as a “positive good.” By assigning such a name to a program intended for academic excellence, we fail to reflect our university’s mission, fail to promote inclusivity and the recognition of diverse perspectives, and fail to support the sanctity of Black lives.”

The petition reportedly received close to 20,000 signatures. With the board suggesting the college building be renamed after Tillman, who was allegedly a white supremacist, the petition’s request will still stand.

The school’s name is subject to the state’s Heritage Act, which requires two-thirds of the General Assembly vote to change any aspect of historical structures.

Clemson University President Jim Clements said he predicts the request will be considered when the legislative session returns next year. Clements said the university is asking the Legislature for an exemption on Tillman only because it is the school’s “signature building.”

Hannah Connelly, a recent Clemson graduate who helped lead the push for Calhoun’s name removal, said the change was a win for the group and illustrates a shift in thinking for university leadership.

“There seems to be a shift in how they’re understanding the history of Clemson,” Connelly said. “So they’re understanding that history is one thing, but choosing to honor certain parts of the history are a very different thing. And so for them to be able to make that sort of theoretical shift I think will open a lot of doors at Clemson.”