Friends and family of two trailblazing Tar Heels — Hortense McClinton and Henry Owl, whose names now adorn two University buildings — joined Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and other Carolina community members for a small virtual celebration on Friday, Dec. 17.
McClinton, herself, joined the Zoom gathering. The first Black professor hired at Carolina, she accepted an appointment with the UNC School of Social Work in 1966 and retired in 1984. Now 103, she lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. McClinton Residence Hall bears her name.
And family members of Owl (1896-1980), the first American Indian to enroll at the University, as a graduate student in history in 1928, spoke on his behalf. The Henry Owl Building is home to Student Affairs.
“This is probably the most fun moment I’ve had this entire semester,” Guskiewicz said, addressing the digital gallery of smiling faces during his opening remarks. “It means a lot to be able to celebrate this with all of you. Since that day when the new signs went up, I’ve heard from so many members of our campus community about how excited they are that we are honoring these two incredible individuals. This is one of the ways in which we’re building our community together here at Carolina.”
David L. Boliek Jr., chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, began by quoting the University policy on naming. “The act of naming a University facility or unit for a person, a family or an organization is the conferral by the University of a high and conspicuous honor bestowed upon those who have made a substantial and sustained contribution to the University or who have brought special distinction to the University or to society at large,” he said. “I think those words are very fitting today as it relates to both Ms. McClinton and Mr. Owl.”
“Thank you very much for this honor,” said McClinton. “I’ve had so many calls from different people from all over the country saying that it means so much to them that the University of North Carolina has done this. I think it’s an honor for all of us.”
Owl’s daughter, Gladys Cardiff of Seattle, Washington, expressed her family’s gratitude: “It is a high and conspicuous honor and the result of the words of countless people who expressed their support.”
Cardiff then unfurled a copy of her father’s nearly century-old Carolina diploma, which she offered to donate to the University.
“We will absolutely accept it,” Guskiewicz said. “We’ll be certain that it’s displayed prominently in the lobby of the Henry Owl Building.”
The Chancellor then invited other guests to speak, and virtual hands shot up.
“There are so many members from our congregation that are [here],” said the Rev. Jonathan Augustine, pastor of St. Joseph A.M.E. Church in Durham, where McClinton is a member. “I just want to say, Sister McClinton: ‘We love you. We are so deeply proud of you. It is an honor to serve God with you. And you represent us all so, so well.’”
Joseph Jordan, director of Carolina’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, fondly recalled the days when students and others sat with McClinton at Stone Center events. About renaming the two buildings: “I think this is something that’s a long time coming to the University, but it’s right on time,” he said.
Many others spoke, including Marcus Collins, associate dean and director of Carolina’s Center for Student Success and interim director of the American Indian Center; Michael Harris, one of Owl’s grandsons; McClinton’s granddaughter and two great grandsons; and several of McClinton’s sisters in the Delta Sigma Theta service sorority.
“As a trustee and as an alum, as a Black alum in particular, I know on whose shoulders I sit,” said Board of Trustee member Teresa Artis Neal. “And so for me to be able to be a trustee, given the path that you trod and the path also that Henry Owl went down, I just have to say thank you for the doors you opened for me and for others like me. And I know I’m charged to continue to follow the example that you set.”
UNC School of Social Work Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson, who joined the University last August, spoke about McClinton’s pioneering role in their shared academic field. “I wanted to say to Ms. McClinton that I have heard from social workers all over the country since the announcement was made that this is a point of pride for us as a profession, particularly African American social workers. You have opened the door,” she said. “You exemplify the heart of a social worker … and because of you, I’m here today.”
Amy Locklear Hertel, chief of staff to the Chancellor and clinical assistant professor in the School of Social Work, agreed. “As an American Indian social worker, I feel like today is an extremely special day,” she said. “I can’t imagine two greater individuals, two greater families, two greater sets of values to be on the landscape here at Carolina.”
Hertel’s closing remark echoed the sentiment of many on the call: “Today,” she said, “is a very, very good day.”