Rename Ewell Hall to Harris Hall after Black Entrepreneur Samuel Harris
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The current music building and future administrative building "Ewell Hall" is located prominently on campus, just behind the historic Wren Building and across from the Admissions Office. The building's location as well as its history make it a necessary candidate for a restorative racial justice name change honoring the Black figures who are essential to the College's founding and continued existence. For this reason, we demand that Ewell Hall be renamed either "Samuel Harris Hall" or "Harris Hall" in honor of the Black businessman and civil servant Samuel Harris and in rejection of the honor currently placed on a Confederate colonel, Benjamin Ewell.
Benjamin Ewell was the 16th president of the College of William & Mary and served before, during, and after the Civil War. He was also a colonel in the Confederate Army, and supported his brother, Richard Ewell, a senior commander under Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Ewell helped to revitalize the College after the Civil War, using some of his own funds to do so; for this reason, the campus building Ewell Hall is named after him. (Source)
However, Benjamin Ewell did not do this alone. After the Civil War, Ewell was bankrupt, unable even to plant a crop on his James City County farm. He, and subsequently William & Mary, were supported by loans from Mr. Samuel Harris, a former slave and prominent businessman in Williamsburg after the Civil War. Samuel Harris was well known and respected in Williamsburg as the owner of the "Cheap Store," a miscellaneous goods store which sold everything from horses to hardware and even boasted a barber shop. Harris was a cornerstone of the Reconstruction efforts of Williamsburg, and his efforts in local government as well as his role as the founding shareholder of the town's first bank indicate his importance to Williamsburg and William & Mary's history. (Source)*
*As noted by Rahul Patel, there is conflicting research as to the direct impact of Harris' contributions to the College. Regardless of his direct financial support, however, Samuel Harris is a prominent figure in the history of Williamsburg and thus the College that deserves far more recognition than he currently garners. Ewell Hall must be renamed due to its namesake's Confederate affiliations; Samuel Harris is a worthy replacement. Furthermore, additional research can and should be done on Samuel Harris' life and contributions; thus, please see our additional demands to The Lemon Project below.
Our demands are several. Most importantly we fight for the renaming of Ewell Hall; however, we note and demand other actions that the College can and should take to honor the memory of Samuel Harris and the other African Americans who have made the College what it is today.
1. We demand that Ewell Hall be renamed either "Samuel Harris Hall" or "Harris Hall" in honor of the Black businessman and civil servant Samuel Harris and in rejection of the honor currently placed on a Confederate colonel, Benjamin Ewell.
2. We demand that Samuel Harris is acknowledged for his contributions to the College of William & Mary through the College's Lemon Project. We suggest, at the bare minimum, that his name and contributions are mentioned on the African Americans and William & Mary: A Historical Timeline webpage. Further, we request that The Lemon Project initiate further research into Harris' life and accomplishments with the goal of sharing said research with the wider community.
3. Create a memorial placard for Samuel Harris on campus. We suggest a location near the newly named Harris Hall for clarity and education. We request that work writing the placard be done in collaboration with The Lemon Project, Special Collections researchers, and student organizations.
William & Mary must reckon with its Confederate, racist past. With a new performing arts hall (Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall) to be opened in June 2021, and the current Ewell Hall to be rededicated as an administrative building, this change is not only conscionable, but obvious. The administration must release a statement indicating their intent to change the name of Ewell Hall to Harris Hall and commit to honoring his legacy in campus changes over the next several years. The time is now. William & Mary has a responsibility to its students and its history that is not being fulfilled. We demand the College acknowledge its place in the subjugation of Black people and make concrete actions towards racial justice.
Special thanks to Rahul Patel for his research and advocacy.
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