Students, descendants reflect on Dickinson name changes honoring former enslaved people

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CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) — Historic changes will soon make their way to Dickinson College in Carlisle as the school will rename parts of campus after formerly enslaved people who made a huge difference in the community.

A total of four former enslaved people will receive this honorable recognition. This was something that has been in the works for a long time and now educators say this project is in the home stretch.

“I’m here today because of what he did,” Jesse Rawls Jr. said.

Central Dauphin East High School principal and Harrisburg native Jesse Rawls Jr. says at first, he had no idea one of his ancestors would leave a huge legacy behind until his daughter did some research and found out that he was related to Henry Spradley.

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Spradley escaped from slavery in Virginia and later worked at Dickinson College.

A residence hall is set to honor Spradley.

“When a school does that, that you had an impact at that school and now they’re naming a building after him, just again shows me that influence that he had,” Rawls said.

Charlotte Goodman is a student at the college who says she’s proud to see this moment in history come to life at her school.

“I think the process of historical research is so interesting and how oftentimes there’s more to the story that we didn’t know about before,” Goodman said.

“I also think it’s really exciting that during our time here, students, we actually get to actually see a revision of history playing out on our own campus that’s helping us to better understand our past and how we got to where we are today,” Goodman said.

Professors say these individuals were not enslaved people on the campus and they played an influential role that has helped shape the college to where it stands currently.

“They weren’t just janitors and food sellers they were community leaders they were civil rights they were really important figures on campus and in town,” Matthew Pinsker.

Educators say renaming these different parts of campus is inspirational to their descendants.

“It’s rewarding in a way to know that your ancestors, that they were doing some great works, the best that they could with what they had,” Rawls said.

On November 20 there will be a ceremony on campus starting at 10:30 am to set these changes in stone and reveal these displays to the community.

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