HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Across the country, questions are being asked about who should be memorialized and commemorated.
In Charleston, South Carolina, crews worked to remove a statue of former vice president John C. Calhoun on Wednesday. Critics say Calhoun supported slavery, but a community college in North Alabama is named after the same man: Calhoun Community College.
“Andrew Jackson said a mistake he made was not having John C. Calhoun tried as a traitor,” said Jesse C. Brown, a retired professor from Athens State University. His masters thesis focused on southern political history.
“There is no political leader from the Southern region more prominent during the Antebellum period than John C. Calhoun of South Carolina,” he continued.
Calhoun served as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He was also the Secretary of War, which is known as the Secretary of Defense today, as well as Secretary of State. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.
“Calhoun was also, unlike some of his other Southern leaders during the Antebellum period. He was unapologetically pro-slavery,” said Brown.
Calhoun Community College is the state’s largest community college and was renamed “John C. Calhoun State Technical Junior College and Technical School” in 1965.
Brown says who exactly chose to rename the school after Calhoun, he wasn’t sure. Calhoun College’s website didn’t list who it was either. Brown speculates it might have had to do with a renewed interest in the confederacy.
“It was the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War,” said Brown. “But what’s always intrigued me, and I don’t know the answer, is… Why John C. Calhoun? If they were really searching for a Confederate hero, they could have named it after Joseph Wheeler, whose home place was a very short drive from the Calhoun campus.”
WHNT News 19 asked Brown if Calhoun had any connection to Alabama.
“If there is — I don’t know what it is,” he responded. “Somebody thought he was important enough and had been a defender of the Confederate cause and the Southern way of life during the Antebellum period that they put his name on that college and now, it’s the state’s largest community college.”
When asked if Calhoun Community College would ever consider changing their name, Brown said:
“I think if it’s going to be done, it doesn’t need to simply be somebody on high, like the Governor, simply declaring a change. I think it ought to be, if you want to bring it about right with a degree of consensus, it needs to be the faculty, staff, students, and alumna, alumnus of that institution should create a process where it’s thoroughly discussed.”
Brown also adds that some might say a name change is rewriting history, but says instead, it’s rewriting a name change.
Brown says there is a distinct different between history and heritage.
“There are topics that should be studied because they involve important people, important places, important events that have consequences in our lives. Heritage is different. I certainly want John C. Calhoun studied… every Southernor should study John C. Calhoun very carefully. But the question comes for each generation… what subsets of history do we wish to applaud and cheerlead?”
WHNT News 19 reached out to Calhoun Community College for comment, who pointed us in the direction of the “Alabama Community College System” who said:
“The Alabama Community College System has specific and thorough policies and procedures in place for the naming of entities across all 24 institutions. The ACCS is in the midst of a long-term strategic planning process – ASPIRE 2030 – and is looking at all aspects of Alabama’s community colleges to help better serve all Alabama students.”