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Rename Chambers Building at Davidson College

This petition had 995 supporters

Dear Davidson College Board of Trustees and Administrators,

In 1855, Maxwell Chambers donated a sum of $260,000 to Davidson College, making it the wealthiest institution of higher education in the South. With this windfall Davidson erected Chambers, still today the crown jewel and figurative center of campus.

The source of Chambers’ wealth is a matter of historical ambiguity. While a young man he moved to Charleston, SC and there laid the foundation of his fortune. However, Chambers’ name does not appear in any public record from the time period. His absence from historical record - an astonishing feat for someone of great wealth - calls into suspicion the nature of his work in Charleston. Maxwell’s own brother and business partner, Joseph, ran a prominent slave trading business out of Alexandria, Virginia. Chambers’ great nephew asserted that Maxwell too built his fortune through the illegal trafficking of African-born slaves. This accusation was found credible to such an extent that John Joseph Bruner, editor of a local newspaper and leader in the Presbyterian church, refused to publish an obituary for Chambers. Chambers himself claimed that he made his money through the cultivation and trading of cotton and, later, providing loan services to plantation owners and other wealthy businessmen. If this is the case, the source of his wealth is no less egregious, as Maxwell Chambers directly profited from and perpetuated the institution of slavery. Chambers Building was built with slave money, and honors a slaveowner.

Chambers Building must be renamed. Some may argue that to erase Maxwell Chambers’ name from campus is to erase history. Of course, this is partly true. Renaming Chambers is erasing and rectifying the glorification of a shameful history, acknowledging and rejecting the original sin that built this country and our campus. It is unconscionable to have our students, faculty, and staff work, study, and learn in a building honoring an agent of white supremacy and a slaveowner - a building originally constructed with clay bricks molded by the hands of North Carolinian slaves. Furthermore, the original Chambers burned down a century ago. There is little reason to continue to display Maxwell Chambers’ name as a source of pride.

This is one small step we can take to reject Davidson’s historical links with slavery, to heal, and to rebuild a more just community. This is an effort to reclaim our college from its disgraceful past. Let’s start this process.

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