‘This truth hurts.’ NC university stunned to learn its namesake owned, sold slaves.

·3 min read

The president of Wingate University in Union County said he was stunned to learn recently that his school is named for a slave owner.

“This truth hurts,” President Rhett Brown said in a statement on Friday announcing his discovery that slaveholder Washington Manly Wingate is the school’s namesake.

Wingate University President Rhett Brown, shown in this screen capture from video
Wingate University President Rhett Brown, shown in this screen capture from video

Wingate is forming a group of faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees, Wingate town officials and others in the next few weeks “to determine next steps,” according to Brown’s statement posted on the university’s website.

And a campus discussion about the revelation is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 12, on Zoom.

Regarding whether it’s considering changing its name, the university said in the post, “the only decision that has been made is to create” the committee.

“It’s way too premature” to speculate on what those steps might be, Wingate spokeswoman Kristen Johnson Yost told The Charlotte Observer on Saturday.

Ties to Jesse Helms

Wingate University is closely associated with the late conservative icon U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.

Helms, a Union County native, briefly attended Wingate when it was Wingate Junior College.

In his statement, Brown said he learned about Washington Manly Wingate during a phone conversation with Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch.

Wingate was a two-time president of Wake Forest, which on Friday announced the renaming of part of its Wait Chapel from Wingate Hall to May 7, 1860 Hall.

Under Wingate’s leadership, 16 enslaved people were sold on that date to fund Wake Forest’s initial endowment, according to Brown’s statement.

In Wingate University’s post on Friday, the school said no money from the sale of enslaved people was used to fund the university. The school was founded in 1896.

In addressing the funding question, the school posted: “Washington Manly Wingate had been dead for nearly two decades when the Wingate School was founded. He played no role in the University’s history.

“His name was chosen because of his role as a two-time president of Wake Forest.”

No slavery ties previously found

In 2018, Brown said in his post, Wingate University asked three employees to research whether “any buildings, monuments or statues around campus were named after anyone with egregious pasts.”

The search relied on “publicly available resources” and revealed no names linked to slavery, he said.

“’Wingate’ was suggested as the name of the school 17 years after Manly Wingate’s death by the son of an inaugural trustee, who was teaching at Wake Forest at the time,” Brown said.

In his statement, Brown also said: “Knowing that the stain of past transgressions can never be eliminated and that the debt to people of color can never be repaid, Wingate University officials do believe this deeply upsetting news can serve as an opportunity for reflection, reconciliation and growth.”

The post also quoted Wingate Board of Trustees chair Joe Patterson as saying: “While we can’t erase history, we can learn from it. The Board of Trustees eagerly awaits the group’s recommendations on how to move forward.”