Summer reading and lessons about campus names and renaming

By: D.G. Martin - Contributing Columnist

What can Yale University teach UNC-Chapel Hill and other universities about naming and renaming college buildings and programs?

What does Yale’s solution have to do with North Carolina and one of the books I recommend for early summer reading?

Yale divides its undergraduates into separate colleges, where they live and eat together over four years. The colleges are named after important historical figures with some connection to Yale. For instance, Calhoun College is named for Yale alumnus John C. Calhoun, a vice president of the U.S. during the presidency of Andrew Jackson and a brilliant defender of slavery.

Because of that connection to slavery, there have been widespread efforts to persuade Yale to rename Calhoun College.

Last week, after months of study, Yale President Peter Salovey announced there would be no name change because “renaming Calhoun College could have the effect of hiding the legacy of slavery.”

What is the North Carolina connection?

Balancing the decision to retain Calhoun’s name on one college, Salovey announced that a newly constructed college would be named for Pauli Murray, who grew up in Durham, in recognition of her “achievements in law and religion, and for her leadership in civil rights and the advancement of women.”

The lesson for North Carolina universities: When deciding to retain the campus names of slaveholding connected people, balance the decision by honoring people who overcame the legacy of slavery and segregation.

Ironically, Pauli Murray got a big boost to her civil rights career by a connection to Eleanor Roosevelt that began when Murray wrote her to complain about UNC’s refusal to admit her because of her race.

The story of Murray and her friendship with Mrs. Roosevelt is the subject of one of my suggested books, “The Firebrand & the First Lady,” by Patricia Bell-Scott.

Another suggested book connects to the current presidential campaign. While Donald Trump talks about building a giant new wall between Mexico and the U.S., author, filmmaker, activist, and Duke professor Charles Thompson writes about the challenges the current border barriers create. He traveled the entire length of the divide between the two countries and experienced life and attitudes on both sides of the barrier. He writes about what he learned in “Border Odyssey: Travels along the U.S./Mexico Divide.”

If there is anything that divides North Carolinians more than politics, it is barbecue. But far away from the Eastern and Piedmont barbecue homelands, there is an Asheville restaurant with its own way of slow cooking meat over wood coals. It draws people from all over the country, including President Obama, to enjoy its distinct offerings. How do they do it? They put it all down in their book, “12 Bones Smokehouse: A Mountain BBQ Cookbook” by Bryan and Angela King, Shane Heavner, and Mackensy Lunsford.

The Kings are the owners. Heavner is head chef. Lunsford is a long-time food writer. Their combination of expertise and good explanations, along with great photographs, show the reader how they do it. More importantly for me, they create pathways for an amateur to cook pork and create dishes that will be almost as good as a visit to 12 Bones and will be appreciated by barbecue fans from all over the state.

Unconnected to partisan politics is Salisbury native and current Kinston resident Kristy Woodson Harvey’s second novel, “Lies and Other Acts of Love.” It is a heart-rending story of four generations of an Eastern North Carolina family in transition, told in the voices of a grandmother whose husband is fading away and her granddaughter, who has changing ideas about who and what she wants in a husband.

Harvey’s compelling story will entertain, challenge, and surprise its readers and give them a needed break from divisive politics.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. Preview the upcoming program on UNC-MX digital channel (Time Warner channel 1276) on Fridays at 8 p.m.

D.G. Martin

Contributing Columnist