As municipalities and schools across the South grapple with monuments devoted to the Confederacy post-George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer, Jacksonville State University looks toward its own Bibb Graves Hall, named for the former governor and Klu Klux Klan member.
Matthew Reeves, a 2020 graduate of JSU, started an online petition Saturday calling on the university to rename the building, built in 1930, and which houses the school’s administrative offices.
Reeves told APR on Wednesday that after talking with a friend at the University of North Alabama about that school’s own Bibb Graves Hall, he decided to do something himself to enact change locally.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 3,072 people had signed his petition, including one person who in a comment on the petition welcomed the change.
“From a person of color considering this college in the future, it would make me feel more included,” the person wrote.
Reeves suggests the school consider renaming the building after Barbara Curry-Storey, JSU’s first black student and a 1969 graduate of the university.
In a post Monday to the university’s Facebook page, acting JSU President Don Killingsworth Jr. wrote about the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, and about the possibility of changing the name of campus buildings.
“Two weeks ago today, George Floyd breathed his last breath. We have all watched in horror as the video has been replayed again and again in national news. Our hearts are broken for his family,” Killingsworth wrote. “What happened to him and what continues to happen to Black men, women, and children across our nation is appalling and unacceptable. We recognize that this event, along with many others, is disturbing to so many, especially our Black students and colleagues.”
Killingsworth said JSU will establish a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Center to address racism and to work to help the campus community “broaden understanding of our diverse experiences.”
“JSU’s administration is aware of the conversation taking place on social media regarding the names of certain buildings on our campus. Please know that we hear you,” Killingsworth said. “The administration has appointed a special task force of students to further address the building names in conjunction with the Student Government Association President. According to the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, we must obtain State approval to change the names of buildings more than 40 years old on state property.”
Reeves said Killingsworth has been good about listening to students’ concerns, and that he believes Killingsworth is headed in the right direction, but that it’s important to continue to hold the administration accountable.
“We’re gonna stay on top of it and make sure that it really happens,” Reeves said, adding that there’s a JSU Board of Trustees meeting in July that he’s certain himself and a group of former and current JSU students will attend.
The University of Alabama System’s Board of Trustees recently approved the removal of three plaques honoring Confederates, and appointed a group of trustees to review and study the names of buildings on all UA System campuses.
Similar petitions urging building name changes have been signed by current and former students at the University of Alabama and at Auburn University.
“I think it’s a great first step. Obviously, we have a long way to go, and changing the name of a building or taking a statue is not going to end racism,” Reeves said.
But perhaps doing so will open doors and lead to more substantive change, he said.
JSU acting President Don Killingsworth’s full statement:
“Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
“Two weeks ago today, George Floyd breathed his last breath. We have all watched in horror as the video has been replayed again and again in national news. Our hearts are broken for his family. What happened to him and what continues to happen to Black men, women, and children across our nation is appalling and unacceptable. We recognize that this event, along with many others, is disturbing to so many, especially our Black students and colleagues.
“Members of the JSU family have shared the pain they are feeling because of Mr. Floyd’s death. Let us be clear: Jacksonville State University values Black lives. We stand firmly against the harm and injustice people of color continue to face, and we are committed to addressing systemic racism through actions we take individually and as an institution.
“A timely opportunity for JSU to continue to address social injustices is upon us. In February, a group of faculty, students, and community partners applied to the Association of American Colleges and Universities to participate in a summer institute on “Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation.” JSU was notified in March that we were approved to participate, and we will be moving forward with this opportunity. As a part of this initiative, JSU will establish a Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Center and will collaborate with the community to work to dismantle racism. This center will work to help the campus community broaden understanding of our diverse experiences.
“JSU’s administration is aware of the conversation taking place on social media regarding the names of certain buildings on our campus. Please know that we hear you. The administration has appointed a special task force of students to further address the building names in conjunction with the Student Government Association President. According to the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, we must obtain State approval to change the names of buildings more than 40 years old on state property.
“While there is no way to erase the harm our faculty, staff, and students of color are experiencing, please know that JSU offers resources to help you seek care and support. Faculty, staff, and peers, please encourage your students, colleagues, and friends to seek resources and help from these university services and staff:
“Students may seek assistance through the JSU Counseling Center by requesting counseling services or by calling 256-782-5475. The center is staffed by individuals steeped in knowledge of counseling those who have experienced racial trauma, and they are glad to offer assistance to anyone affected by the recent events.
“The Associate Dean of Students, Josh Robinson, can help with student advising and referral, and he will inform students about options and resources for getting the help they may need. Contact the Dean of Students Office at 256-782-5491.
“Employees who are interested in talking to someone should reach out to the JSU Human Resources Office at 256-782-5007.
“Several individuals have asked about giving a gift in memory of George Floyd. JSU has created a new scholarship with management by JSU’s Black Alumni Chapter, which will select recipients. If you are interested in making a donation to this scholarship, please click here, scroll down in the Fund Designation section, and choose Black Alumni Chapter Endowed Scholarship. Choose the In-Memory option and fill out that section.
“JSU is beginning the recruitment process for a Diversity and Inclusion administrator. The person in this position will be another resource for the campus community and will assist the institution in fostering a sense of belonging for all students, faculty, and staff.
“Finally, please know that we are here for you and will work tirelessly to ensure an inclusive, safe, and welcoming environment for the entire JSU family.
Dr. Don C. Killingsworth, Jr.