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As UNC tweaks Kenan Memorial Stadium name, a look at the different Kenans

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s football stadium’s name was recently recontextualized after a Daily Tar Heel story showed that the venue was named after William Rand Kenan Sr., who led a unit that killed at least 25 black people in the Wilmington Massacre in 1898. 

He's not the same Kenan that Duke’s Kenan Institute of Ethics is named after. 

The connection between William Rand Kenan Sr. and the namesake for Duke’s center is tied up in the family tree and the philanthropy of Kenan Sr.’s son—William Rand Kenan Jr.

Duke’s Kenan Institute of Ethics was established by a five-year grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Fund for Ethics in 1995, according to the institute’s website. It started off as the Kenan Ethics Program.

“The Institute was a response to philanthropist Frank Hawkins Kenan’s concerns about the growing absence of ethical standards in business and public affairs,” the website says.

At the time, Frank Hawkins Kenan was the chair of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust.

"Ethics is one of the most important subjects [one] can study today," Frank Hawkins Kenan told The Chronicle when the program was first announced in October 1995.

Four years later, the Trust established a $10 million endowment for the Institute. Over the years, the Trust doubled that endowment to $20 million.

Currently, the institute is one of six interdisciplinary institutes at Duke and collaborates with more than 100 faculty across Duke’s campus. A self-labeled “interdisciplinary think and do tank,” the Institute focuses on six areas: global migration, human rights, moral attitudes and decision-making, environmental ethics and policy, regulation and religions and public life.

Suzanne Shanahan, Nannerl O. Keohane director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics and associate research professor in sociology, wrote in an email that Duke’s center was one of four that Frank Hawkins Kenan established at North Carolina colleges.

Duke’s Institute, she wrote, is named for Frank Hawkins Kenan. 

So what’s the connection to William Kenan Sr.? A Kenan family tree that Shanahan provided sheds light on the ties. 

Frank Hawkins Kenan’s grandfather was William Rand Kenan Sr.’s brother. William Rand Kenan Jr.—the namesake of the charitable foundation—was one of William Rand Kenan Sr.’s four children.

There are many things in North Carolina named after various members of the Kenan family, including UNC's Kenan-Flagler School of Business that is named after William Rand Kenan Jr.'s sister and her husband. 

William Rand Kenan Jr. was a well-known philanthropist. He left most of his $95 million fortune to UNC upon his death, according to the Daily Tar Heel story, and asked for the plaque to be put on the stadium in honor of his parents.

His father’s entanglement is the contentious point. The plaque that was on UNC’s football stadium did not say anything about William Rand Kenan Sr.’s leading of a machine gun unit in the bloody Wilmington Massacre of 1898.

Now, UNC has decided to re-contextualize the stadium’s name. 

The school is changing the plaques on its stadium and is working with its History Task Force to make the focus on William Rand Kenan Jr. instead of the philanthropist’s father. According to a statement reported by the Daily Tar Heel, the school is consulting with the Kenan family on the matter. 

"Here too, we must acknowledge the realities of the present and the past," UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said in the statement. 


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