It’s the first building to be named after a Black person in the University’s 222-year-history.
The University of South Carolina (USC) has announced that it will be renaming one of their campus buildings in honor of former educator and activist Celia Dial Saxon, The Post and Courier reports. Saxon was born enslaved in 1857 in Columbia, South Carolina, making history as one of the first Black students to attend public school in the state during Reconstruction. She went on to become a teacher at Booker T. Washington High School, Benedict College, and what is now known as South Carolina State University.
Saxon’s career spanned nearly six decades. She was considered somewhat of an activist, participating in the women’s club community, leading literacy programs, free daycare for children and running housing for orphaned girls. Now she is being posthumously honored for her contributions. The University recently unveiled Celia Dial Saxon Hall, the first building named after a Black person in the university’s 200+ year history.
The dorm is located in what was once the Ward One neighborhood, a thriving Black community. The former Celia D. Saxon Elementary School, renamed for the educator in 1930, is also nearby, represented by a marker just a block away from the new dorm. During the ‘50s and ‘60s, Ward One residents were displaced when the university and city decided to use their community to expand the campus. As the university took over churches, businesses, and family homes, Ward One community members dispersed, doing what they could to remain tight knit. For years, community members have come together, feeling like the university could do more to acknowledge the history and rectify what they considered unjust. The renaming of a praised historical figure like Saxon, spearheaded by the Ward One Commission, seems to be a start.
“We are assigning a spotlight on the story of an educator, an educator with ties to the university and the ground, on which it stands,” said USC President Michael Amiridis during the April 21st unveiling ceremony.
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The Saxon dorm comes on the heels of the Presidential Commission on University History’s 2021 report. The commission called for the renaming of 11 buildings in total, offering suggestions on notable Black figures whose contributions were worthy of honor, including Saxon. While none of the names have been removed yet, much to the dismay of the community, USC has argued that the state’s Heritage Act, giving South Carolina lawmakers sole power to change historic names on public property, is what’s holding up the process.
Since the one dorm didn’t previously have a name, they chose to use that opportunity to honor Saxon, something USC VP of DEI Julian Williams says helps to tell a more accurate history of the university.
“It’s a chance for our community to learn about her legacy. And ask the questions that are necessary about how that complex past informs our future,” said Williams.
USC had previously installed a statue of Richard Greener in 2018, the school’s first Black professor. They are also planning to erect a statue commemorating the three students who integrated the university in 1963. The statue honoring Robert Anderson, Henrie Monteith Treadwell and James Solomon Jr. will be sculpted by Jamaican artist Basil Watson.
Gerri Lewis Hevalow, Saxon’s great-great-granddaughter flew in for the unveiling, donating two of Saxon’s awards to the university library. Hevalow is an educator as well, continuing her family’s legacy. She said she grew up surrounded by artifacts from Saxon’s life as a young child. When her grandmother passed away, she inherited the museum of family heirlooms, including the two donated awards, one Saxon received in 1932 commemorating 56 years of service as an educator, and another gold pendant commemorating 16 years of service.
“I want to represent education. I want to represent dignity, I want to represent pride,” said Hevalow.
Now Ms. Saxon’s legacy will never be forgotten.
Cover photo: University of South Carolina renames campus building in honor of former educator & activist Celia Dial Saxon/Gerri Hevalow, great-great-granddaughter of Celia Saxon speaks at unveiling ceremony/Photo Courtesy of Lianna Hubbard/The Post and Courier