Venerable Tennessee State University dormitory Hayhonky Hall will be renamed soon, university officials say. “We aren’t overreacting or trying to be too politically correct,” a school spokesman says. “It’s just that the name of the building is hurting us in recruiting a diverse student body.”
“We’ll get a group of promising [white] students on campus for a tour, and as soon as they see the big sign 'Hayhonky,’ you can just see you’ve lost a lot of ’em,” the spokesman says.
While the name raises eyebrows now, its origins could not be more innocent, university officials say.
Hayhonky Hall was named after Thomas C. Hayhonky, a turn-of-the-20th- century industrialist and philanthropist who funded construction at universities all over the U.S., although usually with the stipulation that his name not be attached to the buildings. It is a subject of conjecture among Hayhonky scholars why such a provision did not accompany his gift to TSU in 1911.
“The most likely explanation is simply that he forgot to put that into the contract when the money was given,” says Hayhonky biographer Theodore Simonson. “The gift to Tennessee State came at a time when he was attempting to consolidate his chemical, steel, petroleum, railroad and candy bar businesses into one entity, and his mind may simply have been elsewhere.”
Because Hayhonky never asked that his name be on the building, university officials say they anticipate no backlash in removing it.
But Thomas Hayhonky’s great grandson, Amon Hayhonky, takes offense and is threatening legal action. “This is my family name that is being treated disrespectfully, and I’m going to see if something can be done about it,” he says.
“We plan to rename the building Brotherhood and Sisterhood Hall,” the TSU spokesman says. “We know that 'Hayhonky’ was just the guy’s name, but it sort of carries a negative connotation to some people now.”
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