COLUMBIA, S.C. — Some of the more notable recent names in University of South Carolina athletics are asking the school to change the name of its showpiece fitness center, arguing that the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond shouldn’t be glorified in such a way due to the segregationist views he once held.
The Presidential Commission on University History on Friday is set to take testimony pushing to rename the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center from standouts including Marcus Lattimore.
Before that meeting, former USC wide receiver Moe Brown spoke about the effort and was joined by current Gamecocks athletes. South Carolina Women's Basketball Coach Dawn Staley showed up at the end of the gathering and announced her support for the push.
The Black student athletes are also signatories to a memo asking the university to remove from its campuses “the names of Confederate supporters, racists, misogynists, and those who outright advocated for the subjugation of any person’s life.”
The effort began in June when the athletes signd a Change.org petition to get the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center renamed.
Former football players Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, Mike Davis, and Shaquille Wilson all signed the petition. Later in the evening, former All-American women's basketball player A'ja Wilson said she signed the efforts too, and finally NBA Hall of Fame basketball player and former Gamecock Alex English said he too had added his support.
The wellness center, which is the main recreation and exercising building for all students on campus, opened in 2003 at the coroner of Assembly and Blossom Streets. It has had Thurmond's name on it from the beginning, and he donated about $10,000 for its construction before his death.
Thurmond was both a governor and longtime U.S. Senator from South Carolina, serving in the U.S. Senate for 48 years. He died in June of 2003 at the age of 100 just months after leaving office.
During much of his political career in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, Thurmond was a staunch segregationist. In the 1948, he ran unsuccessfully for president on a platform of state's rights and segregation. In 1957, he set the Senate record for a filibuster against a civil rights bill to expand Black people's voting rights.
The online petition brings up all those points as reasons Thurmond's name should be removed.
USC President Bob Caslen also released a statement regarding the press conference.
“I appreciate Moe Brown and our former athletes adding their voices to this issue. I have heard from many students, faculty and other members of the community who share their concerns. We must work toward a more inclusive environment where all of our students feel valued. I am fully committed to this.
It should be noted the university has made recent strides in the areas of diversity and inclusion:
-- Historic appointment of William Tate as the first African American Provost at UofSC, and first in all of the SEC;
-- Elevating the position of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to a Vice President reporting directly to the President, and hiring a dynamic new VP in Julian Williams;
-- Appointing a proven communicator and leader in Larry Thomas as VP for Communications;
-- Leading and establishing a university strategic plan with a dedicated priority to diversity equity and inclusion;
-- Although we do not have final numbers yet, this year we anticipate seeing a significant increase in the number of Black students at UofSC; an 11 percent increase in African American enrollment from this time last year.
I am pleased that the Presidential Commission on University History could meet with Moe’s group and hear their presentation requesting a renaming of the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center. My very first act as president was to establish the Commission with the specific objective of leading a research effort that will help us to better educate students, faculty, staff, visitors and local community members about the complex history of the university. I also have asked the Commission to identify and include the contributions of marginalized and underrepresented people and/or groups whose voices have typically not been heard. Finally, the Commission was recently charged by the Board of Trustees to bring forward a set of names of prominent African American South Carolinians who could be considered for honorific naming of university buildings.
From the beginning of my presidency, I recognized the divisive nature of some campus building names. My goal has been to encourage and foster open, candid dialogue so that all views are expressed and considered. I believe it is important to have open, inclusive, and respectful discussion on matters like this from which we can move forward together. I am excited this process has begun.
I look forward to receiving the Commission’s report.”