The independent news organization of Duke University

To surprise of history department, Classroom Building name will remain until another formal process

<p>Duke covered up the Carr name on the Classroom Building after it was renamed in December.</p>

Duke covered up the Carr name on the Classroom Building after it was renamed in December.

Although the name Carr has been removed from above its entrance, the Classroom Building will remain the Classroom Building for the time being.

The name was formally changed in December 2018 after the Board of Trustees approved renaming the Carr Building to the Classroom Building. But, much to the confusion of those who made the initial renaming request—the history department, which is housed within the building—it is set to keep its new name until another formal request is made.

“The Board of Trustees voted to change the name to the Classroom Building," wrote Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, in an email to The Chronicle. "While the university, and ultimately the Board of Trustees, may consider a new name in the future, there are no immediate plans to do so."

This stood in contrast to what John Jeffries Martin, professor of history and chair of the history department, thought was set to happen. 

Martin said he thought the Board was only "using the Classroom Building as a placeholder," and would consider renaming it "once they [got] around to it."

He referred to an email sent by President Vincent Price to the Duke community Dec. 1, which stated that the Board of Trustees had chosen to "revert to the building’s original name, the Classroom Building, until such time as a new name is selected."

The question of whether or not it was appropriate for the building to be named for Julian Carr amplified after a speech Carr gave at the unveiling of the Silent Sam statue in 1913 came to light. In the speech, Carr boasted of having horsewhipped an African American woman because she had “publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.” 

“The violence of his language [in the speech] was really shocking,” Martin said.

Carr served as a private in the Confederate Army in his youth. A wealthy man, he donated the land that is now East Campus to Trinity College, which later became Duke University. The building which houses the history department was built in 1927, and was formally named after Carr in 1930.

Martin noted that the history department voted unanimously to change the name.

In the original request sent to the Board of Trustees, the history department also recommended that the building name be changed to honor Raymond Gavins, who died in the spring of 2016 after teaching at Duke for 46 years. 

Gavins came to Duke in 1970 as the first African American faculty member in the history department. Before joining Duke's faculty, he was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in history from University of Virginia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1967. 

Martin described Gavins as "a quiet, humble, and intellectually powerful figure" who dedicated his life and career to Duke.

“In his personal life and his scholarly life, [Gavins] was a pioneer. He was a significant scholar of the African American experience,” Martin said.

Despite the history department's recommendation, the Board of Trustees decided to return the building to its original name of the Classroom Building. 

The ultimate choice of renaming the Classroom Building still lies in the hands of the Board of Trustees. Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees, confirmed in an email to The Chronicle that another request would have to be filed in order for the Board to reconsider the name of the building.

Nonetheless, Martin said he remains "hopeful that the building will be named after Ray Gavins," adding "if it is necessary for [the history department] to initiate a new request we will do so."

“I am very encouraged that the president of the University put into place a process for the reconsideration of names of buildings and the context of monuments on campus," Martin said. "In general, we are oblivious to what the names around us mean."

Maria Morrison

Maria Morrison is a Trinity senior and a digital strategy director for The Chronicle's 117th volume. She was previously managing editor for Volume 116.


Share and discuss “To surprise of history department, Classroom Building name will remain until another formal process” on social media.