Around 80 community members met today to discuss whether the UW should rename two rooms at the Memorial Union, named after alumni affiliated with a campus Ku Klux Klan group.
The two alumni, Academy Award-winning actor Fredric March and Porter Butts, a famous art historian and first director of the Memorial Union, were members in a campus group that used the name Ku Klux Klan in the 1910s and 1920s.
Following the Charlottesville, Virginia protests last year, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank commissioned a study into the namesakes. The final report released in April did not recommend changing the names, but called for the community to address campus-wide racism and bigotry.
But at the public forum today, many called for the rooms to be renamed.
President of the Dane County NAACP, Gregory Jones, says the UW cannot protect students’ wellbeing while maintaining its connection to the KKK.
“NAACP has always been at the forefront of civil rights,” Jones said. “The image left by the name KKK will always be there. I find it difficult that the lasting image by the name KKK can be reconciled without some serious discussion and discourse and changes being made to those space now named after those individuals.”
Others argue the names of the rooms should stay the same.
Granddaughter of Porter Butts, Carol Randall, says the media falsely portrayed him. She says Butts and the campus group were not racist.
“The knights of the Ku Klux Klan was different from this social organization that my grandfather happened to be elected into,” Randall said. “The naming of this social group occurred before he was even part of the group.”
UW alumni Garry Kreewall says one mistake shouldn’t discredit Butts’s later achievements.
“One of Porter Butt’s many accomplishments during his long service to the university was his support of the arts on campus,” Kreewall said. “I would like to hear someone defend the proposition that one youthful indiscretion negates a lifetime of positive achievement and devotion to the university.”
UW student Rena Newman says the UW needs to focus on ending racism on campus.
“We should be able to honor and empower people through the arts that’s not at the cost of our most marginalized students,” Newman said.
The Wisconsin Union, the group that runs the Memorial Union, will host a second public forum on the issue from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Old Madison East room.
The Union’s governing board says it will decide whether to permanently change the names of the two rooms in December. Starting in the fall semester, the Union will cover the names temporarily.
The UW has also put aside $1 million for a history project to highlight those on campus who have fought against racism. The Union has plans to create a “social justice incubator” to fight prejudice on campus.
Jackson Danbeck reported the story for WORT News.