A task force made up of university trustees will reach out to the Clemson campus for opinions on how best to present the institution’s history, according to its chairman.
David Wilkins formed the task force as one of his last acts before handing over his chairmanship of the board of trustees to Smyth McKissick last month.
Student and faculty groups have called for renaming the building overlooking Bowman Field because its namesake, 19th century politician and fierce segregationist Benjamin Tillman, had a long record of advocating violence against blacks.
Wilkins rebuffed such a call in February, but the fatal shootings at a Charleston AME church of nine blacks in June helped to reintroduce the debate.
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He got the board to vote for a resolution days later to support removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia, only to have a group of former Faculty Senate presidents write an open letter restating the case for taking Tillman’s name off the university building known as “Old Main” until 1946.
The new task force is part of another board resolution passed in July that called the racist views of Tillman Hall’s namesake “repugnant.” Wilkins and fellow trustees Kim Wilkerson, Bob Peeler, David Dukes and Louis Lynn — Clemson’s sole black trustee — met for the first time Thursday in Columbia. McKissick and emeritus trustee Allen Wood are nonvoting members of the task force.
Wilkins said Thursday’s meeting was mostly organizational and dealt with how best to proceed. Wilkins said board secretary Angie Leidinger and other staff will investigate how other Southern universities are dealing with similar issues stemming from their state’s slave holding pasts and suggest ways to better present Clemson’s history.
“That’s how we did the presidential search (that led to the hiring of Jim Clements),” Wilkins said. “We looked at best practices and formed them to what was best for Clemson.”
The task force will meet again in “a month to six weeks” on the Clemson campus to begin sounding out students, faculty, staff, alumni and others, Wilkins said. He also plans to consult with the university’s History faculty.
“We plan to reach out to all stakeholders,” said Wilkins. “We want to listen and we want to learn ... we’re going to get help wherever we can.”