Dickinson College officially renames residence hall and gateway after former slaves

Carlisle/West Shore

CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) — Dickinson College is honoring its past by renaming a residence hall and campus gateway after former slaves.

More than 50 descendants attended a special ceremony honoring their ancestors on Saturday morning.

As the country deals with a racial reckoning, students and faculty at Dickinson college have made it their mission to honor the past.

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“Anybody who cares about history should understand that a lot of different people made this country, made this school. They are different genders, different colors, different religions,” said Matthew Pinksker, professor of history and director of the House Divided Project.

That’s why Cooper Hall, named for Thomas Cooper is being renamed. He was a scientist who briefly taught at the college and later became a leading- pro-slavery ideologue in South Carolina.

It’s now Spradley-Young Hall, in honor of Henry Spradley and Robert Young.

“They were formerly enslaved in Virginia and Maryland and they came to Pennsylvania during the Civil War by and large and then they lived free in Pennsylvania,” Pinsker said. “They worked for wages at Dickinson College and they forged a life after the Civil War.”

More than a century later, Young’s great-granddaughter is amazed by the honor.

“The recognition four all four of the individuals is long overdue and I find it amazing and I’m very blessed to know that I’m a descendent of somebody who contributed so much to Dickinson and to Carlisle Pennsylvania,” said Carol Rose, a descendent of Robert Young.

Some of Spradley’s descendants are just learning about their lineage.

“He wasn’t someone that was talked about in our family because we did not know he was a member until my niece Jessica did Ancestry.com,” said Jocelyn Rawls.

Rawls was amazed when she learned more about Spradley.

“He was a community leader. He helped the students on this campus. They even shut the campus down the day of his funeral, so he had a big impact here,” Rawls said.

East College Gate is now Pinkney Gate, honoring both Carrie and Noah Pinkney, who were popular African American food sellers on campus for decades.

“It’s a really inspiring tribute to the people who helped shape our campus in the 19th century, but also to their descendants who came from all over the country to be here to share it,” Pinsker said.

There could be more name changes in the future as Dickinson says it’s continuing to recognize diverse, historic contributions to the school and the nation.

Dickinson’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved the name changes in May 2020. This came after a 2019 report initiated by the House Divided Project that investigated the college’s ties to slavery.

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