NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Tennessee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy said Tuesday that it had no legal choice but to accept $1.2 million from Vanderbilt University in exchange for relinquishing the naming rights to the private school’s Confederate Memorial Hall.
The Southern heritage organization “is disappointed that an institution such as Vanderbilt University would attempt to whitewash, sanitize and rewrite American history,” the group said in a statement.
The organization’s attorney, Doug Jones, said that a successful 2003 lawsuit to block the dorm’s renaming resulted in a ruling that Vanderbilt couldn’t change the name of the residence hall without paying back a 1933 donation of $50,000, adjusted for inflation and interest.
Once Vanderbilt decided to pay, Jones said the group had “no legal option or alternative” than to accept the money.
Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos announced Monday that the inscription needed to be removed because it “spoke to a past of racial segregation, slavery and the terrible conflict over the unrealized high ideals of our nation and our university.”
The school has officially referred to the dorm only as “Memorial Hall” since 2002. The money raised from anonymous donors makes it possible to make that name change official, and workers had already covered up the word “Confederate” above the white columns of the building by Monday afternoon.
Jones took issue with Zeppos linking the name of the building to slavery, citing a finding by then-Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt in 1988 that there was no indication that the dorm’s name was “in any sense intended to support either slavery or any other form of prejudice toward blacks.”
The United Daughters of the Confederacy donated the money to what was then the independent George Peabody College for Teachers to help fund the dorm that was completed in 1935. In return, the descendants of Confederate soldiers nominated by the group would be allowed to live there rent-free.
When Vanderbilt acquired Peabody College in 1979, only four students nominated by the Daughters of the Confederacy still lived in the dorm. Vanderbilt allowed them to remain there at reduced rent, but stopped the practice after they graduated.
Zeppos told The Associated Press on Monday that the deal to rename the dorm allows the school to “focus on moving forward.”
“You can memorialize individuals without taking sides in the bloodiest war that was fought over the divisive issues of slavery and equality that we’re still struggling with today,” Zeppos said.