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Some USM students want library renamed, citing segregation history

HATTIESBURG (AP) — Some students at the University of Southern Mississippi want to consider renaming the school’s main library, citing the namesake’s history of supporting segregration.

Student Government Association Senator Jarrod Colley told a November meeting that he was concerned that the library was named for longtime President William McCain, who led the school when Clyde Kennard was denied admission.

Kennard was a black U.S. Army veteran, farmer and civil rights activist who was denied admission multiple times by then-Mississippi Southern College in the 1950s. In 1960, Kennard was falsely convicted of helping steal chicken feed. While imprisoned, he was diagnosed with cancer but was denied proper treatment until he was critically ill. Kennard died in 1963 at 36.

The Student Government Association has formed a committee to study how buildings were named.

“This committee will be looking at specific spaces like McCain Library and other historic spaces that may have some controversy surrounding them,” said student government President McKenna Stone.

Any decision to rename the library would ultimately be made by College Board trustees who oversee Mississippi’s eight public universities, The Hattiesburg American reported.

The University of Mississippi said last year it would rename Vardaman Hall, which was named for white supremacist governor James K. Vardaman. The university also said it would “contextualize” some other sites by adding plaques.

McCain was president of USM from 1955 to 1975, a period in which enrollment increased, the athletic program expanded and a number of new buildings were added.

Kennard’s attempts to enroll attracted extensive publicity and the attention of leaders far beyond the university. Then-Gov. J.P. Coleman and McCain met with Kennard at one point, attempting to dissuade or delay his attempts.

Colley is absent from campus for an internship, but another student senator, Andrew King, said he was concerned by McCain’s involvement.

“He definitely was not a fan of integration at the university and he was not a fan of Clyde Kennard at the university,” he said. “I think that needs to be considered.”

Stone said the committee could continue into the next school year. She said it’s possible questions could arise about the names on other historic buildings on campus. She said any student government request to have the library renamed “is way down the road.”

USM says that when it names a building, it considers monetary donations, the historical significance of an individual or group contribution to the university and whether those contributions have historical staying power.

USM spokesman Jim Coll said each of the first eight presidents of the university has had a building named after them.