UC will rename all spaces named for slave-owning co-founder McMicken

Charles McMicken, a businessman and slave-owner whose bequest of land and money allowed Cincinnati to found UC, and McMicken Hall, which bears his name. CONTRIBUTED BY WCPO-TV

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Charles McMicken, a businessman and slave-owner whose bequest of land and money allowed Cincinnati to found UC, and McMicken Hall, which bears his name. CONTRIBUTED BY WCPO-TV

CINCINNATI — The University of Cincinnati board voted Tuesday to officially remove the name of Charles McMicken, the 19th-century slaveowner whose postumous donations helped found the school, from all spaces across the university.

For now, the building that bore McMicken’s name will become Arts & Sciences Hall, McMicken Commons will become Bearcat Commons, McMicken Circle will become University Circle and Mick & Mack’s Contemporary Cafe will instead be Bearcats Cafe.

“I have spoken with several members of our campus community on how we, together, can best nurture and support a culture of inclusion moving forward,” Pinto wrote in a memo on Monday. “Though the audiences differ, the message remains much the same: the prominence of McMicken’s name on campus and the symbolism of exclusion it represents is holding us back from creating and sustaining a full sense of belonging for all.”

In 2019, UC president Neville Pinto appointed a working group of faculty, board members and student government leaders to weigh whether McMicken’s name should continue to emblazon the arts and sciences building and other spaces, after UC’s student government voted to have the name removed in 2018.

The report created by the working group recommended the university drop the name, citing that continuing to use McMicken’s name would associate the school with ideas that do not reflect or support UC’s mission of “excellence and diversity.”

UC’s board ultimately didn’t vote to remove the name until Tuesday, years after the original recommendation was made, but the decision to remove McMicken’s name was unanimous.

McMicken, an early 19th century businessman from Pennsylvania, bequeathed the city of Cincinnati money and property “to found an institution where white boys and girls might be taught” when he died in 1858. The cause was personal to him, according to his will’s writer, because he had never obtained much education himself.

Pages later, the will also included provisions to free his slaves and send them to a parcel of land in Liberia -- an idea common across the country in that era, when many believed peaceful coexistence between free white and black people in the United States was impossible. Not mentioned at all were the two black children he is rumored to have fathered by slave mothers.

McMicken’s name did not become formally associated with the university’s arts and sciences college until around 1953, according to the working group. By the ‘70s, Black student movements openly objected to the name, arguing – like the students who voted to remove it in 2018 – that it associated the university with views that didn’t align with its mission.

The university resumed the use of the name in the early 2000s, then began to phase it out in 2017 following more objections from student groups.

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