EUGENE — New signs went up Wednesday at Unthank Hall, the University of Oregon dormitory recently renamed because of the Ku Klux Klan past of its former namesake.
And on Tuesday afternoon, friends and family of DeNorval Unthank Jr., the first black man to graduate from the UO’s architecture school, in 1951, gathered to celebrate the name change. Those friends and family knew him as “De,” but are glad to have his last name on the green signs posted on the building.
DeNorval Unthank Jr. died in 2000, but the name change ensures his legacy, younger brother Thomas Unthank said Tuesday.
“I think it is very important for the school to recognize alumni, especially its minority alumni,” he said. Now in his 80s, Thomas Unthank lives in Portland.
About 80 people attended the Tuesday reception in the courtyard of the Ford Alumni Center, which offers a view through the trees of Unthank Hall. The wing of the Hamilton Complex long was known as Dunn Hall, in honor of Frederick Dunn. A classics teacher at the UO for decades in the early 1900s, Dunn also was an “exalted cyclops” in the KKK.
In fall 2015, the Black Student Task Force at the UO asked the university to rename buildings that were named for people whose histories were linked to racism. Their request focused attention on Deady Hall, the oldest building on campus, and Dunn Hall.
UO leaders decided to keep the name on Deady Hall. Its namesake, Matthew Deady, supported slavery before founding the UO in the 1800s but later changed his views.
They decided to rename Dunn Hall.
Libby Tower, Unthank’s daughter, said her father would be amused by having a building he didn’t design carry his name. But he would support the reasons for the name change.
“I think it is really more the symbolism of what was Dunn Hall and making a correction for the right reason,” said Tower, 63.
After his graduation with a degree in architecture, DeNorval Unthank Jr. stayed in Eugene. During his long career as an architect, he designed buildings on the campus — including McKenzie Hall, the former law school — as well as houses and other buildings around the city and the Northwest.
“His fingerprints are all over Oregon,” said Eugene City Councilor Greg Evans, who was a friend of Unthank Jr.’s.
Other notable buildings designed by Unthank Jr. include the Lane County Public Service Building and Kennedy Middle School in Eugene, and Thurston High School in Springfield. He also taught architecture at UO while still working as a professional architect.
A naming committee, which included Evans, picked four finalists earlier this year from 19 candidates who met renaming criteria for the former Dunn Hall. UO President Michael Schill then selected DeNorval Unthank Jr. in May; the UO Board of Trustees made it official in June. The four-story dorm was known as Cedar Hall while UO leaders found a new name.
The UO specifically sought a deceased black individual who had a direct relationship with the UO or state of Oregon. The three other finalists were: DeNorval Unthank Sr. (Unthank Jr.’s father), who was a doctor and civil rights activist in Portland; Nellie Franklin, the first black woman to graduate from the university in 1932 when she earned her degree in music; and Derrick Bell, the former dean of the UO School of Law.
In addressing the audience at Tuesday’s ceremony, Schill offered some insights into why he chose Unthank Jr.
“The more I learned about De, the more it became clear how impactful he was,” Schill said.