EDITORIAL: Powell, Nortons best options for renaming

As Eastern’s Board of Trustees meets Friday, a discussion will be had on the renaming of Douglas Hall.

This comes after the Naming Committee reviewed several individuals for their fitness for naming honors, including former Illinois Governor Edward Coles, former student athlete and Tuskegee Airman Major Charles B. Hall, community members who assisted students with housing Ona and Kenneth Norton, Eastern’s first Black student Zella Powell and former life sciences professor and Director of Afro-American Studies William Ridgeway. They also reviewed the options of naming the building Lincoln-Douglas Debate Hall or Lincoln-Douglas Debate Memorial Towers (Liberty Hall and Justice Hall).

We at the Daily Eastern News believe two potential names stand out from the rest: Powell Hall and Norton Hall.

Though all of the individuals being considered for naming honors have left incredible impacts on Eastern, the surrounding community and/or the world, Zella Powell and Ona and Kenneth Norton are reflective of Eastern’s values in a way that cannot be overlooked.

Powell was a hometown (or hometown over girl) when she came from Mattoon to Eastern as the school’s first Black student. She was the daughter of the first natural-born resident of Mattoon and a member of a pioneer family who helped found the city.

At Eastern, she studied education before becoming a teacher and teaching in both Mattoon and Chicago.

Powell instilled her love for education into her daughter, Louise, who became a librarian and helped her husband, Dr. Charles H. Wright, create what is now the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

Powell’s granddaughters, Stephanie Wright Griggs and Dr. Carla Wright, went on to leave their own impacts on the world, becoming the CEO of Provident Hospital in Chicago and a medical doctor respectively.

The Nortons’ impact comes from their community leadership and service after they opened their home to Black students who were unable to find housing in Charleston.

Before opening their homes, however, they were both members of prominent

Black families in Coles County, with a website documenting Black history in Coles County calling them the “most recognized Black family in Charleston” for their time.

Though neither Norton graduated from Eastern, Ona Norton attended the university and received many honors related to both Eastern and Charleston including being named the 1967 Citizen of the Year by the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce, inducted into the EIU Athletic Hall of Fame as a friend of the University and inducted into a Minority Alumni Hall of Fame as an honorary member.

Both Powell and the Nortons are fantastic examples of what people should aspire to in not only their day-to-day actions, but the legacies they left behind.

Eastern would benefit greatly from honoring either Powell or the Nortons, but students would benefit more with such powerful role models so prominently honored on campus.