LETTER TO THE EDITOR: UNC building should be renamed after Henry Owl 

by Jul 13, 2020OPINIONS


Dear Editor,

Henry Owl (UNC photo)

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is in the process of renaming buildings. This provides an opportunity to honor the first person of color to receive a degree from UNC. That person was Henry Owl, son of a Cherokee father and a Catawba mother and a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokees, who received a M.A. in history from UNC in 1929. Owl’s name will be familiar to many Eastern Band Cherokees, but he is not well known beyond Qualla Boundary. Yet Owl was a champion of equal rights for Cherokees in this state, and UNC played an important role in his struggle. Owl’s M.A. thesis was on the unique history of the Eastern Band and its relationship with the federal government. When this well-educated young man tried to vote in Swain County, registrars insisted that Eastern Cherokees were not covered by the 1924 federal law that enfranchised American Indians. His thesis demonstrated that they DID, in fact, possess the right to vote even before that legislation. Motivated by the attention this incident attracted and the soundness of Owl’s scholarly argument, Congress passed a law in 1930 specifically enfranchising the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians so that there would no longer be any doubt. Henry Owl deserves to be honored by UNC, his alma mater, and I need your help in achieving this goal.

The current effort to rename buildings to honor those who championed rather than opposed human rights provides a unique opportunity. I ask you to publish this letter in the Cherokee One Feather, and I ask your readers to join me in trying to make this happen. If you would like to see this building renamed, please email committee chair, Dr. James Leloudis leloudis@unc.edu and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz chancellor@unc.edu

Thank you.


Theda Perdue

Atlanta Distinguished Professor Emerita of History

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill