Dickinson College renames campus spaces to honor formerly enslaved people who contributed to the school

Dickinson College’s East College Gate has been renamed Pinkney Gate, honoring Carrie and Noah Pinkney, who were popular African-American food sellers on campus for decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

As we learn from this article, Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA renamed a building and a gate after formerly enslaved people who were key employees at the college. “The community of Dickinson College gathered together on Saturday to honor the renaming of a residence hall and campus gate after former slaves who contributed to the school’s history. The Spradley-Young Hall and Pinkney Gate Renaming Ceremony took place outside of the Old West building at the college. After opening remarks, four students told the stories of former slaves Henry Spradley, Robert C. Young, and Noah and Carrie Pinkney. Cooper Hall, named after Thomas Cooper, a pro-slavery ideologue who taught at Dickinson, will now be known as Spradley-Young Hall. The change honors Henry Spradley and Robert Young, two formerly enslaved men and longtime college employees who helped merge the Dickinson campus during the 19th century. East College Gate will be changed to Pinkney Gate, honoring Carrie and Noah Pinkney, who were popular African-American food sellers on campus for decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Dickinson College’s Cooper Hall, named after Thomas Cooper, a pro-slavery ideologue who taught at Dickinson, was renamed Spradley-Young Hall during a ceremony at the school’s Old West building on Nov. 20, 2021.

The article continues, “The initiative to rename the sites began with the Dickinson and Slavery project, a multi-year research creation led by director and history professor, Matthew Pinsker, and his students. ‘These are not just names on a gate or a building. They are supposed to be stories that can inspire us. The people that we’re honoring today overcame great obstacles,’ said Pinsker. ‘And even after they were free, they faced even further obstacles, but they persevered,’ he said. The three year research project started off as a history class in 2017 on American slavery. It then developed into a full fledge initiative in 2018 with an exhibit, followed by a report in 2019. The report led to a decision by the board of trustees in 2020 to authorize the renaming. The decision was delayed by the pandemic, but now officials were finally bringing it to coalition this year. Over 50 descendants of the structures’ new namesakes attended the ceremony. Many had traveled from as far as California, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada and South Carolina to witness the event.”

It also tells us, “Albert Gilbert, who traveled from California, said he appreciates his family connection to Carlisle. ‘I feel honored and appreciative of them doing the work that they did at Dickinson just to talk about Robert Young’s contribution here. You think about the kind of struggles they went through at that point in time to be apart of the community,’ he said. ‘It also helped me understand why my dad and my great-granddad were so productive in terms of what they did with their careers, that it actually started way back with Robert Young,’ he said. Pinsker closed the ceremony with a one-minute recording of Robert Young’s granddaughter, Charlotte Young (McStallworth), a 1934 graduate of Dickinson College. In the recording, Young said her grandfather was a strong advocate for education. Moving forward, the college will explore other potential name changes for additional buildings with wide-ranging considerations related to recognizing more diverse historic contributions to the school and nation.”

This article tells us the impact these honorees had on the college. “Henry Spradley was born into slavery in Winchester, Virginia. He was a Union soldier and later became Dickinson College’s longest serving janitor and a community leader. A dinner he hosted for a graduating class of seniors in 1885 made local news. “The class felt especially delighted upon the occasion,” the Carlisle Sentinel reported. Spradley’s life on the campus was not free of racial discrimination. His son, Shirley, was accused by the college president at the time of stealing $40. Spradley’s son eventually proved his innocence, but the incident sparked racist backlash against him and his family from some students, according to an account of Spradley’s life on the 2019 Dickinson and Slavery report.

From left to right: Robert C. Young, Noah Pinkney and Henry Spradley. Carrie Pinkney is not pictured. Picture from the Dickinson College archives

The article also says, “Carrie and Noah Pinkney were a formerly enslaved couple who used to sell ice cream and sandwiches to students. After a college president ordered them off campus in the mid-1890s, the Pinkneys opened their own restaurant. Noah Pinkney served in the Civil War and was present at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865, according to the college archives. Jesse Rawls, 48, Spradley’s fourth great-grandson, said he will attend the ceremony. He found out he was related to Spradley through his daughter, who was researching the family’s ancestry. The discovery was eye-opening for him. ‘It made me feel real good inside and it motivated me to continue to work as hard as I do, because I know I’m standing on the shoulders of a man that had done a lot and, that I would think that he would look down and be proud of me and my family,’ said Sprawls, who is the principal at Central East Dauphin East High School.”

According to the article, “Robert C. Young was a former slave from western Virginia who worked at Dickinson as a janitor and security guard for decades, according to information from the college. He was an activist for integration at the college, as well as in school districts. He became the focus of national headlines when he fought Dickinson’s administration so his son Robert G. Young could enroll there. Donna Young, Robert C. Young’s great-granddaughter, went to Dickinson in the 1970s. She eventually became a Montessori teacher in Carlisle. ‘It’s funny because I didn’t really know about him until I did later research, but as I was researching, I could kind of put myself in his place,’ Young said. The 2019 report identified additional buildings that it said should be renamed, such as residential hall and a departmental building named after slaveholders John Armstrong and John Montgomery. The college says it is considering renaming other buildings in the future.”

2 comments

  1. Robert F. Davenport Jr · · Reply

    Supposedly he was anti slavery when he was at Dickinson and became pro slavery later and had enslaved people while teaching in South Carolina. It seems as though a person with his personality would feel at home in todays divided America. I wonder if his views changed because of personal advantage [edited].

    1. Try not to inject partisan politics.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: