Queens Renames Burwell Hall
Queens Renames Building After Discovery of Ties to Slavery
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (July 2, 2020) – Queens University of Charlotte’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename the university’s main administration building, after a task force appointed by the university’s president investigated its namesake’s ties to slavery.
Burwell Hall, built and named in 1914, will now be called Queens Hall.
In late 2019, staff members processing archival material uncovered information about Reverend Robert Armistead Burwell and his wife Margaret Anna Burwell, indicating direct ties to slavery and presented this information to the administration. This prompted President Dan Lugo to commission a task force to conduct a comprehensive examination of Queens’ historical links to slavery and its legacies. The task force, comprised of faculty, staff, students and alumni, found clear and conclusive information describing the Burwell couple’s direct and abhorrent actions as slaveholders.
While the comprehensive charge of the task force continues, renewed attention locally, regionally, and nationally to monuments and buildings that commemorate individuals who were complicit in slavery, compelled the task force to move forward with a recommendation to remove the Burwell name from the building apart from its complete report. The recommendation was accepted by Queens’ president and senior leadership team, then approved unanimously by the board of trustees.
President Dan Lugo says, “Since we were made aware of the information, it has been a priority for our administration to obtain a complete and accurate understanding of the university’s historic ties to slavery, and to reconcile that history with Queens’ mission and values. After researching best practices from several other universities doing similar work, our senior leadership team determined the best course of action was to assign a diverse task force, representing all constituencies of the university. Their work is not done, but their findings on Robert and Margaret Anna Burwell were conclusive, disturbing, and warranted immediate action.”
Current Chairman of Queens’ Board of Trustees Michael Tarwater says, “After reviewing Robert and Margaret Anna Burwell’s history and conduct, the board unanimously approved the task force’s recommendation, agreeing it was in the university’s best interest to take this rare and exceptional action. We determined that it was not appropriate for the Burwell name to remain on a Queens building.”
Jeff Brown, CEO of Ally Financial, and chair-elect for Queens board says, “The actions and beliefs upheld by Robert and Margaret Anna Burwell are in deep conflict with Queens’ values today. Queens celebrates and embraces diversity and strives to make all students, faculty and visitors feel included. The name change is symbolic of the welcoming spirit that is a signature characteristic of Queens today.”
Queens is committed to combatting racial inequality and the legacies of slavery that still exist today by expanding access to higher education, increasing understanding of racial inequities, and making it known that racism has no place on our diverse, inclusive campus.
The main administration building located on Selwyn Avenue was completed in 1914 and dedicated to the memory of Margaret Anna Burwell whose husband Robert Burwell became the first head of the Charlotte Female Institute in 1857, which later became Queens University of Charlotte.
The connection between the Burwell couple and slavery is well documented. Before moving to Charlotte, Robert Burwell founded The Burwell Academy for Young Ladies in Hillsborough. Among the trove of historical materials considered by the task force, the Burwell School’s historic site web page documents the couple’s tie to slavery when living in Hillsborough, including an in-depth exploration of the 40 people of color, both enslaved and free, who labored for the them. Documentation shows Robert Burwell used an enslaved woman for sureties when purchasing the property for the Burwell School. It also shows they led the Presbyterian church in Hillsborough to a new position that excluded people held in slavery from participating in the church.
One enslaved young woman was Elizabeth Hobbs, who later moved away, married, and bought her freedom. Hobbs, now Keckley, eventually moved to Washington D.C. and became the dressmaker and confidante to Mary Todd Lincoln during her White House years. Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley published a memoir in 1868, including damning descriptions of her harsh and brutal life with Robert and Margaret Anna Burwell.
Queens History Task Force on Slavery and Its Legacies
Like dozens of other institutions of higher education, Queens is currently engaged in a comprehensive process to examine, understand, and reconcile historic links between the university and slavery and its legacies. This process is being led by a cross-university taskforce. The recommendation to remove the name of the building is weighty and taken seriously by all parties involved. The information that led to this outcome was compelling and conclusive. The name change renounces the specific and brutal actions of the building’s namesake.
Queens University is a private, co-educational university located in Charlotte, N.C. The university serves more than 2,500 students with 43 major and 63 minor undergraduate degree options and 12 graduate degrees. Students represent 44 states and 49 foreign countries. As part of the university’s vision to promote educational experiences that nurture intellectual curiosity and promote global understanding, nearly two-thirds of traditional undergraduates participate in study abroad experiences and 100 percent take part in internships. The U.S. News & World Report ranked Queens 13th among regional universities in the south in its 2019 edition of Best Colleges.