UNC history professor says Tar Heels should not be changed as university’s nickname

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) –The Tar Heels has been the UNC-Chapel Hill nickname for as long as many people can remember – but now a group wants to change that.

The group, called the Union Soldier Campaign, argues that Tar Heels are associated with Confederate soldiers and they want the name changed to the Rams.

The group met at Bennett Place in Durham Tuesday where they formed a caravan and drove together to UNC-Chapel Hill.

When the group arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill, they stood in front of the South Building holding their flags and posters. One person held a picture of the Washington Redskins mascot and others held food items with controversial names that have recently been changed, including Aunt Jemima pancake mix and Uncle Ben’s rice.

Just as these names have or will be changed or removed, the group is asking UNC officials to change the school’s nickname.

“It’s not an appropriate name in my humble opinion,” said William Thorpe, director of the Union Soldiers Campaign.

Thorpe argues that a tar heel is also what Confederate soldiers from North Carolina were called. He argues that’s not an appropriate nickname for black athletes at UNC.

“If they say they are proud to be a Tar Heel, they are in essence saying that they are happy and content slaves,” Thorpe said.

UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Harry Watson said the Tar Heel is someone who would get tar on their heels while working in the eastern part of the state centuries ago.

“It was not a high status job,” Watson said. “At times that work was linked to people of color or male slaves.”

Watson said by the time the Civil War came around, people all of all races embraced the nickname in North Carolina, including Confederate soldiers.

“They called themselves Tar Heels not to say that they were Confederate, but they called themselves Tar Heels because they were saying they’re from North Carolina,” Watson said.

Watson said he does not think the name should be changed, as he said any racist or negative connotation is long forgotten.

“You might argue that there are more pressing issues of social justice to concentrate on,” Watson said.

Thorpe said the whole idea is to get the conversation started to try to get UNC students and athletes to speak up with their concerns about the nickname.

CBS 17 reached out to UNC, but their media relations office said they had no comment on the issue.

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