CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – As students returned to campus for their first day of classes at UNC-Chapel Hill on Monday, a local group held a march calling on the University to change the ‘Tar Heel’ nickname.
The Union Soldier Campaign started marching at the South Building at noon on Monday and marched to the UNC System Office on Raleigh Road.
The group argues that the name ‘Tar Heel’ is a derogatory term linked to racism.
William Thorpe, with the Union Soldier Campaign, said that confederate soldiers would call themselves tar heels during the Civil War.
Thorpe said they are asking the University to change their nickname to the Rams instead.
“Tar Heels is an epithet that was adopted by Confederate soldiers who fought vigorously to maintain and expand slavery,” Thorpe said. “We’re saying now it’s time to change it. Building names have been changed, let’s just go ahead all the way with it.”
CBS 17 spoke with a UNC historian last month who said the Tar Heel is someone who would get tar on their heels while working in the eastern part of the state centuries ago.
UNC-CH history professor Henry Watson said that tar heels were not known for having high status jobs and at times the work was linked to people of color or male slaves.
However, Watson told CBS 17 that 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 among students and to encourage them to speak up about their concerns regarding the nickname.
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