The building now known as Carolina Hall was named Saunders Hall from 1922 to 2015. Completed as part of the campus expansion in the early 1920s, Saunders was built as a classroom building, originally housing the Departments of History, Economics, and Commerce. It was named for William L. Saunders, an 1854 graduate of UNC who served in the Confederate army during the Civil War. After the war he worked as a newspaper editor, North Carolina secretary of state, and historian, compiling the ten-volume Colonial Records of North Carolina (1886—90). He was a member of the UNC Board of Trustees from 1878 until his death in 1891. When he was selected as the namesake for the new building on campus, he was called an "ardent friend of the University and one of the master minds of North Carolina." He also led the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina.
In the late 1860s Saunders and other conservative leaders in North Carolina were angered by the multiracial coalition that had elected a Republican government and approved a new state constitution that, for the first time, gave every man, regardless of race, the right to vote. Saunders helped organize Ku Klux Klan groups throughout the state to intimidate, threaten, and in some cases murder opposing politicians and supporters. Saunders and his allies forced the impeachment of Governor William Holden in 1871 after the governor tried to suppress Klan violence in the state. Saunders's leadership of the Ku Klux Klan was cited by the board of trustees when the building was named in his honor.
By the late twentieth century students at UNC—Chapel Hill were frequently calling for Saunders's role in the Klan to be acknowledged by the university and the building renamed. In 2014 a coalition of students from the Real Silent Sam Coalition, the Black Student Movement, the Campus Y, and other organizations organized the largest protests yet around Saunders Hall. Students and faculty from the Department of Geography, which was housed in the building, were especially active. The students called for the building to be renamed Hurston Hall in honor of author Zora Neale Hurston, who visited UNC in the late 1930s as a guest of playwright Paul Green.
In a rare acknowledgment of poor judgment by their predecessors, the UNC—Chapel Hill Board of Trustees voted in 2015 to remove Saunders's name from the building. Instead of following the students' requests to name the building for Hurston, the trustees selected Carolina Hall as the new name. Student activists were further frustrated when the trustees immediately followed the action by declaring a sixteen-year moratorium on renaming buildings on campus. In 2016 the university installed an exhibit in the lobby of Carolina Hall that examines the history of Saunders and his allies in the late nineteenth-century white supremacy campaigns in North Carolina.
Date Established: 1922
Date Range: 1922 – Present