SEARCY, Ark. — Arkansas' largest private college says it won't change the name of a building that pays homage to a former school president who opposed integration.
A petition from Jackson House, a graduate of Harding University, had sought to rename the George S. Benson Auditorium after Botham Jean.
Jean was a Black man killed in his living room in 2018 by a white Dallas police officer who said she mistook his apartment as her own.
Harding University President Bruce McLarty wrote a letter to the campus last week saying the name change won't happen.
"I’ve wondered how many Bible heroes we would have left if we labeled everyone according to their worst moment, their greatest sin or their most embarrassing weakness," McLarty said in defense of not changing the name of the Benson Auditorium.
The change.com petition, that currently holds over 18,000 signatures, opens with:
"George S. Benson was a vocal racist and supporter of segregation. In particular, he fought to keep the Harding community segregated. Honoring his legacy by keeping his name on the George S. Benson Auditorium is implicitly honoring his legacy of racism and segregation."
The petition went on to name several documented instances of Benson's "role in maintaining the segregation of the Harding community," House said.
McLarty says he plans to honor Jean “prominently and permanently” on campus but hasn’t determined how.