LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Coles County Faith-Based Coalition for Racial Justice thankful for Douglas Hall name change


We would like to thank Eastern Illinois University President Dr. David Glassman and the Board of Trustees for their unanimous support to choose the name of Powell-Norton Hall as the new name for a residence hall on campus.

We appreciate the thorough way in which the university administration approached the issue of renaming Douglas Hall. The final choice of honoring both Zella Powell and Ona Norton recognizes two women who were strong leaders in their own ways.

Zella Powell was a Mattoon resident believed to be the first Black graduate of EIU who used her degree to serve as an educator for decades, inspiring many young people to seek an education. Ona Norton was asked by an EIU coach in the 1950s to find housing for Black students at a time when Blacks could not obtain housing on or off campus. Her efforts led to EIU providing more opportunities to potential students. Both women bring honor to the university.

We understand there are some alumni and Charleston-area residents who favored retaining the longstanding name of Douglas Hall. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates certainly were a significant part of Charleston’s and the country’s history. But those debates did not take place on campus and Douglas had no connection to Charleston other than the debate here.

There is no disputing that Douglas was a white supremacist who opposed the abolition of slavery and basic civil rights for Blacks, and profited from a slave plantation that his wife inherited. That doesn’t sound like the kind of individual who deserves permanent recognition on a university building in the 21 st century.

EIU has a wonderful history and we love the university, but there are some aspects of EIU’s and Charleston’s past that did not demonstrate that all were welcome here. Naming the residence hall for Zella Powell and Ona Norton won’t change the past, but will tell everyone that EIU acknowledges that past and that EIU and the Charleston community are moving forward.

We believe the EIU Board of Trustees and Dr. Glassman have made a powerful statement by replacing the name of a known white supremacist with the names of two determined women of color who overcame challenges to make the university and the community better. We applaud them for this decision.

Coles County Faith-Based Coalition for Racial Justice Steering Committee
(Bill Lair, Roy Lanham, Rev. Mary Wright, Richard Wandling, Maria Fichter-Wandling, Taneya
Higginbotham, Danah Himes, Rev. Betzy Elifrits-Warren)