The NAACP has come out against two of the new names the Mississippi University for Women is considering.
In a letter written to MUW President Dr. Claudia Limbert, Lowndes County NAACP President Lavaonne Harris came down hard against the names Reneau University and Waverley University.
The university is also considering Welty University as a possible choice.
“The names Reneau and Waverley are both derived from slave holding plantations in the Old South,” wrote Harris. “Neither is appropriate as a replacement name for one of our state universities in the year 2009.”
Sallie Reneau, who is the person the school would honor by choosing her name for the school, was key in the creation of the country”s first public university for women. In the nineteenth century, she lobbied the state legislature to get what is now MUW built; however, she was also a slave owner in pre-Civil War Mississippi.
The organization also takes umbrage with Waverley Univesity. The Naming Committee says the name does not come from the famous Clay County plantation — Waverly Plantation — but from the novel by Sir Walter Scott.
“The NAACP rejects the argument that support for the name Waverley (Waverly) stems from a work of literary fiction by Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott and that support for the name is not connected to the nearby Waverly Plantation,” wrote Harris. “The name Waverley (Waverly), regardless of its spelling, conjures up thoughts of the Old South and the degredation of African Americans through the institution of slavery.”
MUW Professor of Political Science and Naming Committee Member Dr. James Ward agrees with the assessment of the NAACP. He said the committee has not fulfilled the duty it was charged with and went on further to say many members of the committee had their minds made up on a name before the process even began.
“They simply wanted a name that suggested a small women”s college with a private feel and rejected suggestions that promoted our mission as a public university,” he said. “Sallie Reneau is someone who supported the instituion of slavery. Someone like Reneau is totally disconnected from Mississippi today. The suggestion the name Waverley has no connection with the plantation 30 miles from here is ridiculous.”
Ward, who likes the names the University of North Mississippi and Magnolia University, pointed out he did not feel the choice of the two offending names was intentionly meant to bring the ire of the black community, but was the result of poor research.
“These are issues there should have been more public discourse about,” he said.
Ward said of the three choices, Welty was by far the best on the list.
“She is an honorable Mississippian,” he said.
The language of the letter sent to Limbert also suggests the NAACP is ready to fight if the selection process ends with Reneau or Waverley being selected as the final choice.
“It is our hope that you will expand the names being considered beyond Reneau and Waverley and choose a name that will bring honor to the sutdents and the citizens of our state. The Lowndes County chapter of the NAACP is prepared to take aggressive and productive action toward,” wrote Harris.
The 30 member Naming Committee was formed last year and charged with the task of submitting three names for consideration. The original three were Reneau, Waverley and Welty-Reneau. After the names were test marketed by a marketing company the university decided to test Welty University as a stand-alone name.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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