UMiami Confronts Legacy of Two Buildings (But Not a Street) Named After Racists

The University of Miami has not, historically, been especially “woke”, so I found this announcement to be a (pleasant) surprise:

May 3, 2021
Dear Members of the University of Miami Community,

This evening, during a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, we considered a number of issues related to our campuses, including two pending petitions to rename facilities at the University of Miami. We have determined that this is a moment to honor the accomplishments, contributions, and legacies of Black role models in the naming of buildings for the first time in University history, reaffirming our commitment to belonging and justice by recognizing those who overcame racism to enrich our campus, our city, and our world.

Our actions today acknowledge the pain and the promise of our Black students, alumni, colleagues, and neighbors while intentionally choosing to learn from and build on our history. We engaged in serious deliberations about our past, our future, and our ongoing pursuit of racial justice.

During this time of racial reckoning in the United States, the decisions we make must be shaped by our aspiration to be an exemplary institution in the community and nation. That desire compelled us to reevaluate how we can do better to address head-on the hurtful aspects of our past and apply their lessons to our future.

It takes intentional and sustained effort and focus to reckon with and understand the effects of a national history that includes 12 generations of enslavement. We agree with the Historic Review Committee on Naming’s (HRCN) recommendation that we reaffirm and strengthen the University’s commitment to inclusion and recognize the dignity of all persons. Therefore, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees has made four important decisions:

First, we will name our brand-new Student Services Center building—which is central to our mission and our campus—for a distinguished Black alumnus/a of the University of Miami. In helping to transform the way we provide services to our students, this state-of-the-art building reflects our ambition to lead the educational revolution by providing an education for life that has belonging, equity, and justice at its core. This decision stems from our commitment to honoring ’Canes from all walks of life as the University continues to grow, evolve, and thrive. A small committee of trustees, faculty, and students will be selected to identify an appropriate namesake, which will be announced in the fall with a grand opening and dedication ceremony.

Second, the rehearsal hall at the Frost School of Music will be renamed to honor someone whose accomplishments reflect the values of our University and whose life epitomizes their personal commitment to the University. Henry Fillmore, after whom the hall is currently named, used patently offensive language and images to promote his music. His most prominent work—the success of which led to his renown and likely the naming—was full of racist caricatures that amounted to dehumanizing Black people. He died in 1956, nearly a decade after the federal government took action to end segregation in the United States armed forces. However, in considering whether Fillmore acknowledged the negative aspects of his work, the HRCN concluded he did not. The selection of a new namesake for the rehearsal hall will be undertaken by a committee to be appointed by the Board of Trustees, which will make its recommendation in the coming months. Input for a new name will be solicited from students, faculty, alumni, and other members of the University community.

Third, we will no longer refer to the structure on Merrick Drive by our founder’s name. As the founder of the University, we have much to be thankful for to George E. Merrick, yet we understand that for some members of our community, the name on this garage is a reminder of the harm caused by segregation. Therefore, we will adopt a neutral directional name for that structure on the Coral Gables Campus.

Finally, on each structure involved in these petitions, we will educate the campus community about our imperfect past and our vision for the future. We will establish prominent and widely accessible educational features to be displayed on campus to introduce the history of the current and prior honorees, provide context, and explain the decision to retain or remove a structure’s historic name. These markers will remind us that we can recognize the important contributions individuals have made to our University, while acknowledging that the actions in which they engaged during their lifetimes are not consistent with our views today.

This approach, which embraces our role as a teaching institution, will include the other building and street that were the subject of the second petition, bearing the family name of our founder and one of the most ardent advocates of the University, George Merrick. The Solomon G. Merrick Building is one of the oldest on the Coral Gables Campus. Its naming in honor of George Merrick’s father was consideration for the gift of 160 acres of land and $5 million in financial support that led to the very establishment of the University of Miami. Moreover, we do not believe that individuals should be judged by the shortcomings of their family members. The decision regarding the street named for George Merrick himself goes beyond the purview of the Board of Trustees.

While we recognize that George Merrick’s proposals as chair of the Dade County Planning Board perpetuated a wealth gap for Black residents and broad inequities in our community that persist to this day, his vision and donation made possible the institution that would later become the first university in Florida to desegregate. The fact of that progress underlines that, while George Merrick himself might not have imagined our University in all of its current rich diversity, in the years since his life and death, the institution he helped found has made and continues to make substantial headway towards racial justice and equity, and we are committed to enhancing that pursuit.

In addressing renaming petitions, we sought to bring into balance our University’s diverse community and our storied past. We took three key issues into consideration. First, we examined the context in which honorees exhibited behavior that is antithetical to our shared values and hurtful to members of our community. Next, we contemplated the opportunity honorees had to express regret or correct course during their lifetimes. Finally, we considered the balance between how the impact of an honoree’s actions ran counter to or advanced the mission of the University.

Please join us in acknowledging the considerable, thorough work of the HRCN; the guidance and perspective of the board’s Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity and Social Justice; and the impassioned students, faculty, staff, trustees, and community members who made their voices heard through a rigorous review process.

During that process, students have also advocated for a gathering space that facilitates community building and fosters a greater sense of inclusion and belonging. We are delighted to share that the administration has begun planning for an estimated $3 million renovation of nearly 13,000 square feet on the second floor of the University Center to create an expanded multi-cultural space, allowing for informal gatherings and programming for cultural organizations. This flexible space would fulfill desires expressed thus far and could be expanded to meet the needs of a number of student groups on campus. Our newly elected leaders of student organizations and the 2021-22 Student Center Complex Advisory Council will work with the administration to solicit input into the design this summer in the hopes of opening the new multi-faceted cultural space in 18 months’ time.

We are proud of the decisions the Executive Committee made tonight, and we are excited to celebrate the rich and diverse talent and commitment that continue to move the University of Miami forward. We remain hopeful that this inflection point in our ongoing conversation and actions on racial justice will add to the necessary, honest, and productive engagement that ultimately draws us together as Miami Hurricanes.

Hilarie Bass, Esq.
Chair, University of Miami Board of Trustees

Julio Frenk
President, University of Miami

I wonder if the usual contingent will howl, or if this will be accepted quietly? Meanwhile, calling the former Merrick Garage “the structure on Merrick Drive” would have the ring of “the artist formerly known as Prince” … but for the fact that the “structure on Merrick Drive” incorporates the very name they are removing, making it a bit circular, at least until they find a suitable “neutral directional name” for it. Central Garage? Or maybe, “the Southern Garage” would be slyly and geographically appropriate?

The statement explains the partial renaming by saying, “The decision regarding the street named for George Merrick himself goes beyond the purview of the Board of Trustees.” Which makes me wonder — who gets to decide the names of streets on the campus? Is this something the Coral Gables Commission regulates? If so, that may be unfriendly territory for any renaming application — although with three new members inaugurated last week, maybe things have changed.

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14 Responses to UMiami Confronts Legacy of Two Buildings (But Not a Street) Named After Racists

  1. Vic says:

    The White Savior Industrial Complex never sleeps. As a black American I can assure you that very few folks in my community lose any time thinking about all these wrongs committed by long dead people acting in a long dead time. Maybe if a bunch of busy body self important academics, generally white, didn’t constantly try to make themselves feel superior by ginning up their students about such long in the past nonsense, you guys would be able to join us up here in the future where everything isn’t racism 24/7 and then maybe we’d be able to start addressing legitimate matters to improve things, like we used to.

    Otherwise you can pass on to the faculty there that I sho-nuff am glad they are working overtime to make me feel like I am a human and can have a job other than as a janitor or a cook. Seriously, it’s nice up here in the future, you should join us sometime…

  2. Eric says:

    Cancel culture is a severe form of mental illness.

    • I think we need to define terms.

      Much of what I see labeled as “cancel culture” is what I grew up calling “accountability”. I am for accountability. That includes, for example, people choosing which firms they do business with, on whatever terms they like: price, quality, externalities, values, or even sign of the Zodiac. That includes calling all the Senators and Representatives that voted to question the state electoral votes after the sacking of the Capitol as insurrectionists (you may, if you wish, soften that to ‘fellow travelers of insurrection”).

      We should never let “cancel culture” or anything else interfere with our attempts to get facts right, notably facts about our present and our history.

      We should strive to be fair – unproved allegations are not in the main grounds to sanction people (there are exceptions to this rule, and it gets complicated, e.g. very credible allegations, impending elections).

      In our culture we put names on public things – roads, buildings, classrooms – to honor the memory of people. In so doing we hold them up as examples, we endorse at least something, maybe a great deal, about their lives and achievements. When we learn new things about the person honored, or when our ideas of what is honorable change, that is a legitimate occasion to revisit the decision to honor them with a public commemoration. That is not an occasion to attempt to erase them from history. Thus, for example, public statues of Confederates (often erected long after the Civil War, as much as symbols of Jim Crow as anything else), often belong in museums, where their context can be explored, and not in trash heaps.

      There is absolutely no reason that I can see why U.M., a private institution, should not be commended for choosing to revisit the question of whether racists should be honored and commemorated. That does not mean they should be forgotten, for whatever good and bad they may have committed. But it does mean that we, like generations before and after us, not just enjoy a right of choice, but carry an onging moral burden of choice. Saying otherwise is to chicken out.

      As to Vic’s comment, I imagine that the initial impetus for this decision came from on-campus groups including Black student groups. Is that incorrect?

      • Vic says:

        Frankly, I would be astounded if any number greater than 1 of the students in a class at the university had any knowledge whatsoever of any of this history, outside of someone older and with an agenda telling them that they should be outraged about it. Seriously, it may be too late now, since it’s local news, but pollute students in your class about their knowledge of specific pseudo-famous people from 100 year ago.

        I deal with young people who haven’t even seen basic classic films, do you really think they are sua sponte experts on random figures from a century ago? This is a created and crafted response, that’s it. Getting Judge Merrick’s name off a building that only a small number of mostly white and mostly well-off people will ever even see is completely useless and beside the point to the vast majority of that black community near you in the Grove area.

        The racism those of us over 60 experienced in the South, but also in the North, is A). Largely gone as a real impediment, and b). Was not diminished by cartoonish gestures of no personal risk, by people with little skin in the game. No pun intended. Sitting at a Whites only lunch counter and getting the name of a disfavored man off a building for rich kids are not even in the same ballpark, but everyone wants to think they are important and involved, so millions will be spend affirming people’s virtuous thoughts. I can actually appreciate UM’s idea, but really, is it anything more than appeasement of know-nothings demanding it?

        Certainly, “cancel culture” goes to far when people can be outright denied their chosen career because of something they said years ago, or because they don’t condemn someone or something with the required vehemence. All this is is a new ism, wielded by people not affected by it.

        • Just because the median student may not know X doesn’t mean there are not any that do.

          Jumping to the conclusion that some shadowy cabal of oldsters is pulling the strings is … pretty weird.

          It’s not hard for me to imagine a student or student group wanting to do a local version of the rectification of monuments that has been in the news so much.

  3. Eric says:

    Cancel culture discounts the positive and overstates the negative.

    No one is perfect and yet some still think otherwise.

    • Accountability is good. Call it what you will.

      That we are all fallible is obvious. It doesn’t release from an obligation to do our best to do right and justice.

      • Eric says:

        Who will cancel the cancellers?

        • I’d imagine that is the task of the next generation. :>

          • Eric says:

            Cancel culture, by definition, should cancel itself.

          • Vic says:

            “I’d imagine that is the task of the next generation.”

            A mantra repeated throughout history by those who fear only for their own safety in standing up for what is right, RIGHT NOW. We’ll just sit in our office and let the next generation deal with it. I imagine, Michael, you’d have a few more relatives around today if people hadn’t felt this way for hundreds of year of anti Semitic European history, but don’t worry, the next generation will be on it. Or if not them, the one after that…. And if you find that offensive, you absolutely SHOULD. It IS offensive.

            It is alway the duty of good men and women to stand up to wrong. As a lawyer, you should be the first to believe this. As a teacher of future lawyers, you should be ashamed to believe that it is not your duty.

            • I don’t see why you think I disagree?

              Indeed, my point in a previous comment is that I support these name changes on very similar grounds. (“It doesn’t release from an obligation to do our best to do right and justice.”)

              But to those who say I’m wrong about that, or that my conception of right and justice is flawed (and, apparently, that past celebrations of racists were better?) and thus ask who’ll sort me and my ilk out, the answer is that just as we now try to do what is right by our lights, so too does that option (duty?) exist for subsequent generations.

              • Vic says:

                Perhaps I have misunderstood. I have based my opinion here on the rather, IMO, wishy-washy past near the start of these comments on which you at least seem to suggest that conceptions change, so we should just go with it. As conceptions now, are the Mob’s, that doesn’t seem right to me, even if I might agree in principle to some objectives.

                As an example, I think the Chauvin prosecution should have been dismissed with prejudice. Not because I have any opinion on guilt or innocence, but because there was no way to have a fair trial when a not-guilty verdict would have upset tyeMob and caused multiple cities to go into full riot mode. Members of Government were making comments to that effect. Even if it meant letting a guilty man off free, Government should have had the courage and principle to say our system is NOT mob justice and we will not be prosecuting anybody under that rubric. There are a series of cops going to trial for various offenses that they may or may not be guilty of objectively, but I doubt any will go free, because the Mod and other branches of government have deemed them guilty, under penalty of arson and looting. This is the end result of cancel culture; of appeasing the Mob. It needs to be stopped now.

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