The University of Miami went into full "woke" mode Monday night, shredding the university's tenuous link to racist past luminaries, including its own founder.
The school's Board of Trustees announced a number of moves Monday night aimed at "reaffirming our commitment to belonging and justice by recognizing those who overcame racism."
Among the moves is dropping university founder George E. Merrick's surname from a structure on Merrick Drive in order to "adopt a neutral directional name."
"As the founder of the University, we have much to be thankful ... 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," Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees wrote in a statement Monday. "Therefore, we will adopt a neutral directional name for that structure on the Coral Gables Campus."
Merrick, who died in 1942, is considered one of the founders of modern Miami. He is also noted for planning and creating Coral Gables, a Miami suburb adjacent to the university. But critics and detractors say he also made racist remarks and advocated for racist policies throughout his career.
The name of Merrick Drive, the board did note in the statement, "goes beyond the purview" of its jurisdiction.
The move comes after two left-wing Change.org petitions circulated, including to "Rename University of Miami facilities with a racist history."
"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," University of Miami Board of Trustees Chairwoman Hilarie Bass and UM President Julio Frenk wrote in the statement.
The other moves include naming the new Student Services Center building "for a distinguished Black alumnus/a" to be announced in the fall, renaming a rehearsal hall at the Frost School of Music, and putting markers on all 3 to "educate the campus community about our imperfect past and our vision for the future."
"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," the trustees' statement continued.
"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."
The music rehearsal hall will drop the name of Henry Fillmore, who the statement says "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," the statement read.
Fillmore, born in Cincinnati in 1881, was known as a composer and bandleader, making his career as a circus bandmaster before retiring to Miami on the advice of a physician.
He composed more than 250 songs and arranged orchestrations for hundreds more, mostly marches, including the "Orange Bowl March," written for the University of Miami's marching band, Band of the Hour." Known as "Uncle Henry," he also wrote the school's current fight song, "Miami U-How-De-Doo."
The reaction on the school's Facebook page ranged from praise to condemnation by those who identified themselves as alumni.
"I'm so ashamed of my alma matter [sic]," Andre G. Raikhelson wrote. "What a joke. So, instead of lowering tuition, raising educational standards, and developing students, we are going to start renaming buildings and street signs.
"You guys are so darn 'woke.'"
While others claimed pride, others called the move pandering.
"Oy Vey, pandering much," Lu D. Babalu wrote. "It's like affirmative action all over again."
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