Sewanee community reacts to removal of Confederacy seal from window in All Saints’ Chapel

The three iterations of the seal, chronologically. Photos by Luke Williamson (C’21).

By Luke Williamson
Executive Staff

At the beginning of October, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell sent out an email to the Sewanee community regarding a pane of glass in the narthex of All Saints’ Chapel. The window pane—a pane that featured the seal of the Confederacy—was removed two days before McCardell sent out his email. (McCardell’s full email can be found at the bottom of this article.)

According to McCardell’s email, himself, the University Chaplain, and Joe DeLozier, the chair of the Board of Regents, were the individuals who made the decision to remove the window pane. The decision to remove the window was intended to pursue the ideal of “EQB” on Sewanee’s campus, he wrote. Read his full statement below this article.

One student, Nora Walsh-Battle (C’19), was in the narthex of All Saints’ the day that the pane was removed for one of her classes and expressed that, initially, she and many others assumed it was an act of vandalism.

“I was impressed that an individual or group had decided they knew what to do and had taken action, frontier justice style,” said Walsh-Battle. “However, after hearing through the grapevine, and then receiving an email from the Vice-Chancellor, that this was a decision made by the administration, and rashly at that, I think very differently of the removal as well as the replacement panel.”

“EQB also doesn’t stand for Ecce Quam Blackout, in any sense of the word, but that seems to be what the Vice-Chancellor hopes to accomplish, blacking out an unfortunate chapter that holds repercussions to this day,” expanded Walsh-Battle.

One senior on campus, Isabelle Speed (C’19), echoed Walsh-Battle’s suggestion that many individuals assumed the removal of the seal was not sanctioned by the University. “Because there was no official mention of its removal prior to the fact, many other students and I believed that the seal was taken out without permission by perhaps a student or another community member,” she commented.

When asked what she thought about the removal of the seal, Speed said, “I think removing the seal makes sense. It goes hand in hand with the dedication of the EQB monument. I also think that All Saints’ Chapel should be a politically neutral location on our campus, so removing a seal that depicts a non-existent political group makes sense as well.”

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An exterior view of the narthex window while the replacement EQB pane was not yet installed. Photo by Luke Williamson (C’21).

One student, Emily Badgett (C’20), expressed that she believed removing the seal was not completely a positive one. “Removing the seal and hiding it away in the archives just looks like another mace controversy. Removing it without allowing the next generation to learn from our mistakes is not fostering a better community. Every person, student, prospective student, parent, faculty, staff, and community member need to understand our true relationship with racism and the Confederacy.”

Badgett pointed out that All Saints’ Chapel is often referred to as “everyone’s chapel,” but since this is the claim, “everyone should have been involved in the process.”

School of Theology student Andrew McLarty (C’05, T’20) was glad that the seal was removed. “It is a blemish on the Chapel and doesn’t represent the building’s purpose to give honor and glory to God,” said McLarty. He added, “As the highlight for visitors touring and exploring our campus, it misrepresents what the University stands for.”

Eunice Muchemi (C’19), co-director of the Bairnwick Women’s Center, expressed concern about how the decision to remove the seal took place.

“The removal of the seal is a good thing, but the execution could have been better,” said Muchemi. She added that, because she knew nothing about the decision to remove the window until after it had already been done, it seemed that “the narrative was of ‘conceal and hide.’”

Muchemi expressed her hope for the impact of this decision, however.

“I am sure future black and brown students who come to this campus will appreciate not being constantly reminded that there was a time that they did not blatantly belong as scholars on this institution,” said Muchemi.

One specific part of the Vice-Chancellor’s email was something many students disagreed with. In it, McCardell stated that “to commemorate Edmund Kirby-Smith as a beloved member of the University faculty is right and timely; to depict him as a Confederate general has virtually nothing to do with the history of the University.”

One freshman shared her frustration with this part of the Vice-Chancellor’s email in particular.

“The Vice-Chancellor failed in his email,” said Britney Ogbunugafor (C’22). “Stop commending racist leaders or trying to justify their racist beliefs. This is why this school does not have a good diversity when it comes to race because people believe that this is another racist PWI (Predominantly White Institution), and that email is helping that opinion. This school fails when it comes to discussing race and for the Vice-Chancellor to say such a thing is horrifying to me as a black student.”

The Vice-Chancellor ended his email by inviting community members to avoid spreading misinformation about the seal.

“I ask you to join me in resisting the temptation to attribute other motives, whether noble or sinister, to this decision, and to speculate about future decisions, of which, to my knowledge, there are none,” he said. “It is enough to say that this decision is right and timely.”

When asked questions by The Purple about the removal of the seal, University Chaplain and Dean of All Saints’ Chapel Tom Macfie (C’80) said only, “Removing the Confederate seal was the right thing to do. As University Chaplain, working under the direction of the Vice-Chancellor, I was happy to take my part in this decisive action.”


The Vice-Chancellor’s e-mail to the University:

“Dear Members of the Campus Community,

I am writing in the spirit of transparency in communication.

Last Sunday, as part of our Sesquicentennial observance, we dedicated the EQB monument. The purpose of the occasion, and the monument itself, was to reaffirm our institutional commitment to a principle expressed in our motto, “Ecce Quam Bonum,” and adopted by the Trustees at the time the University was founded. It is indeed a good and pleasant thing, though sometimes challenging, when kindred live together in unity.

That occasion has prompted me to consider other opportunities to represent that guiding principle in places where its articulation is especially important. One of those places is All Saints’ Chapel. After discussion with the Chaplain and the Chair of the Board of Regents, I decided that it is right and timely to replace one pane of glass in a window in the narthex of the Chapel. We have therefore removed a pane depicting the seal of the Confederate States of America and are in the process of replacing it with a pane containing the University seal, which includes our motto “Ecce Quam Bonum.”

As to rightness, it is important to remember that the University did not begin operations until 1868 and was thus not, operationally at least, ever a part of the Confederacy. Moreover, under the guidance of Bishop Otey, the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee never left the national church and never joined the Confederate church. Historical accuracy alone might justify replacement of this pane.

To rightness might be added timeliness. We must be cautious and deliberate as we consider representations of our past on this campus. That past cannot be denied. Nor can it be changed or distorted. We need to be honest about it and honest in a way that does not unnecessarily, if unintentionally, offend or advocate. In my view, one distinction in this process might be that things that actually happened and individuals whose work directly affected the University are worthy of depiction. To give but one example: to commemorate Edmund Kirby-Smith as a beloved member of the University faculty is right and timely; to depict him as a Confederate general has virtually nothing to do with the history of the University.

So it is with the Confederate seal, which will be preserved in the University archives. Its replacement by something that is actually a part of University history, that was created by those who founded it, and that remains to this day a part of our institutional DNA, seems both right and timely.

I ask you to join me in resisting the temptation to attribute other motives, whether noble or sinister, to this decision, and to speculate about future decisions, of which, to my knowledge, there are none. It is enough to say that this decision is right and timely.

Ecce Quam Bonum.”

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