Guilford students petition to change name of Duke Hall

Duke Memorial Hall is a staple building on campus, housing the Political Science, Foreign Language and Mathematics departments. However, in the past weeks, there have been growing concerns about Duke’s name.

Guilford student Gretchen Waldorf started a petition on in an effort to change the name of Duke Memorial Hall to Curry Hall. The new name would honor Lavina “Vina” Curry, who worked at New Garden Friends School before it became Guilford College. Curry was a black abolitionist who gave her husband’s freedom papers to slaves so they could escape to the North for freedom.

Waldorf started the petition after learning about Curry in one of her courses, U.S Origins: Pre-Colonialism to 1877. She also learned about the history of the Duke brothers and their family’s history of owning slaves. The Duke brothers donated $10,000 (which is equivalent to about $285,000 today) to Guilford after acquiring enough money through industrial work. Duke Memorial Hall, originally called Memorial Hall, was constructed in 1897 as Guilford’s first science building using donations from the Duke brothers, but it was not dedicated to the Duke brothers until 1969, after renovations that year.

Waldorf emphasized that renaming the building would be timely and appropriate for 2020.

“I think that after all of the Black Lives Matter protests that happened this summer, there is no better time for Guilford to change the name of a building that honors a slave owning plantation family… to honor a free Black woman who risked her own freedom to help free others on the Underground Railroad,” Waldorf said.

The “Rename Duke Hall to Curry Hall” petition has gained over 190 signatures with a goal of 200 signatures. Waldorf directs the petition toward Guilford’s interim President, Carol Moore, Guilford’s administration and the Guilford College Board of Trustees, because they have the resources and power to change Duke Hall’s name. Waldorf hopes that the petition will draw the attention of faculty in time for the 2021-2022 school year.

“I think the petition will have a positive impact on Guilford because I think a lot of the students are ready to see Guilford own up to its past mistakes and sever its racist ties,” Waldorf stated.

Other colleges and universities over the past year have also been faced with the task of renaming halls that were dedicated to racists and white supremacists. According to the Charlotte News and Observer, UNC Chapel Hill is changing the names of three halls on campus. ABC7 reported that Columbia University is also changing the name of Thorndike Hall after its board of trustees voted for the removal of the name.

Members of the Guilford community seem to support the renaming of Duke Hall. However, the Curry-Coffin Commission, a group that focuses on slavery, race and recognition, is currently engaged in researching Curry’s life. The group is also trying to honor Curry’s legacy by creating a plaque dedicated to her.

“While we have not organized a building renaming project at this time, I think we are all interested in facilitating community conversations about other ways to extend our work,” said Sarah Thuesen, an associate professor of history at Guilford.

The Curry-Coffin Commission also wants to recognize the history of the Duke brothers and dispel prominent rumors that have circulated while discussing the possible name change of Duke Hall. These rumors are the basis of a 2006 Guilfordian article, “History of Duke Memorial Hall clarified.” According to Guilford College Archivist Gwen Erickson, one such rumor is that when Guilford was New Garden Friends School, the Duke brothers offered to expand the school into Duke University, but New Garden turned the Duke brothers down. There is no evidence of this in the Guilford archives.

The Curry-Coffin Commission may not be working on the renaming of Duke Hall right now, but Gretchen Waldorf’s petition is still accepting signatures and other support.

For more information about the “Rename Duke Hall to Curry Hall” petition, go to: