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News Release

For immediate use

Sept. 21, 2004 -- No. 442

Symposium on Cornelia Phillips Spencer,
UNC after the Civil War, set for Oct. 1-2

CHAPEL HILL — Was Cornelia Phillips Spencer a true heroine in the history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, even if she supported racial division in the South after the Civil War?

These and other questions will be examined Oct. 1-2 at in a free public symposium, "Remembering Reconstruction at Carolina: A Community Conversation."

Historians and other experts, as well as audience members, will explore what happened at the university during and after the Civil War; why UNC closed from 1871-75, and why it re-opened; Spencer’s role during that time; and more.

" ‘Remembering Reconstruction’ will explore important questions honestly, fairly and without preconceived answers," said history professor Dr. Harry Watson, director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, which organized the symposium. "We invite everyone to participate."

The symposium, to be held in Gerrard Hall on Cameron Avenue, will begin with a keynote address at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 by Dr. Thomas C. Holt, a University of Chicago history professor who has researched Reconstruction in the South.

Events on Oct. 2, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., will end with remarks at 3 p.m. by Dr. Edward T. Linenthal, professor of religion and American culture at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Linenthal specializes in what historians call "contested memory": how people process painful periods from the past. His books examine the concept in contexts including sites of the Little Big Horn battle and the Oklahoma City bombing.

At 4 p.m., participants may tour campus sites that honor blacks and women.

Anyone planning to attend should pre-register by calling 962-5665 or emailing their names to bcall@email.unc.edu. Box lunches will be provided on Oct. 2 for the first 100 registrants.

Spencer is widely revered for campaigning to reopen the university during its closure for four years during Reconstruction. On March 20, 1875 – her 50th birthday – she climbed into the attic of South Building and rung its bell after hearing that the university would reopen.

Today, her name graces one of the university’s highest honors, the annual Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award, for a woman who has made outstanding contributions to the university. Spencer Residence Hall is named for her also.

Last spring Chancellor James Moeser received a letter from history doctoral candidate Yonni Chapman, supported by more than 100 faculty, staff and students, that objected to having Spencer’s name on the Bell Award.

Chapman, who will speak on Oct. 2, says his research shows that Spencer opposed racial equality and had tried to close the university in the first place, resisting efforts to create a more democratic society after the war. He requested a moratorium on the Bell Award and called for campus dialogue about the issue. Moeser asked the center to pursue such a dialogue. "Remembering Reconstruction" will look at Spencer’s legacy and examine how the university should remember its roots in an unjust society, Watson said.

"It is important for us to acknowledge these roots and discuss these painful truths fairly and thoughtfully," he said. "A policy of blind forgetfulness will not work and will not give us peace. At the same time, an effort to erase the memory of those flawed but dedicated Carolinians who built the institution we benefit from today will seem naïve and ungrateful to many.

Four panels are scheduled on Oct. 2; speakers are from UNC unless otherwise noted:

· "Re-examining UNC’s Reconstruction History: Why Now?" 8:30-9:45 a.m., moderated by Dr. W. Fitzhugh Brundage, history professor, with Erin Davis, president, Black Student Movement; Michelle Laws, Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP; Dave Brannigan, grounds worker and labor union representative; Dr. John Sanders, professor emeritus, School of Government; Deb McCown, associate editor, student publication Carolina Review; and Dr. Annette Wright, a historian who has published scholarly articles about Spencer.

· "Carolina’s First Century: Slavery, Civil War and Reconstruction," 10-11 a.m., moderated by Dr. Bill Ferris, Joel Williamson professor of history and senior associate director, Center for the Study of the American South, with history professor Dr. Laura Edwards of Duke University and Dr. James Leloudis, UNC associate professor of history, associate dean for honors and director of the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

· "Cornelia Phillips Spencer and her Legacy," moderated by history professor Dr. Jerma Jackson, with history doctoral student Yonni Chapman and Watson.

· "Roundtable Reflections: UNC and Contested Historical Memories," moderated by Dr. Harry Watson, with Adrienne Davis, law professor; junior history major Derwin Dubose, co-president, Campus Y; keynote speaker Dr. Thomas Holt; Dr. Joseph Jordan, director, Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History; Dr. Madeline Levine, Kenan professor of Slavic literatures and winner of the Bell Award last spring; and Rebecca Williford, a senior political science major.

"We hope that a long and thoughtful campus discussion will follow ‘Remembering Reconstruction’ and contribute to a stronger, finer and more open university," Watson said.

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Contact: Dr. Harry Watson, director, Center for the Study of the American South, 919-962-5436

News Services contacts: Print, L.J. Toler, 919-962-8589; broadcast, Karen Moon, 919-962-9585