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Davidson College Apologizes For Support Of Slavery And Other Racist Laws

Davidson College
The Chambers Building at Davidson College may be renamed following a report from the university's Commission on Race and Slavery.

Davidson College issued a public apology on Wednesday for its support of slavery and other racist laws and policies, while announcing plans to consider renaming university buildings and commemorate the contributions of enslaved people.

The public apology coincided with a report from the college's Commission on Race and Slavery, which was convened in 2017 to investigate the college's legacy of slavery and racial inequity, and suggest possible amends. The commission was headed by Davidson alum and former Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx.

The college itself was founded in 1837, about 24 years before the start of the Civil War. Accordingto the commission's report, many of the college's early leaders were slave owners, and the college's first buildings were constructed with bricks made by local enslaved people.

The commission also found that the college openly engaged in racial discrimination and segregation throughout the Jim Crow era. African Americans were denied educational opportunities, while white students staged mock lynchings that were memorialized in college annuals. As late as the 1960s, the college also played "Dixie," the de facto anthem of the Confederacy, at home football games.  Davidson College was not officially integrated until 1962.

In a video message published alongside the report, Davidson College President Carol Quillen apologized for the institution's past transgressions.

"In upholding unjust laws and false ideas, the college betrayed its obligation to honor the dignity of each person and its commitment to a quest for truth," she said. "Acknowledging that perhaps forgiveness is too much to ask, we, the college leadership and Davidson community, pledge to descendants to those whose labor the college has stolen and to Black people whom the college's racist practices have harmed that we will work to understand the injury and pain that we have caused, and that we will strive to make amends."

The college's board of trustees now plans to consider renaming the Chambers building, named for Davidson benefactor and slave owner Maxwell Chambers. It will also work on a commemoration of the contributions made by enslaved people, among other racial equity initiatives.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Maxwell Chambers as an alumnus of Davidson College. He was not. 

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal