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Kenan Stadium: We Had No Idea About Who It Is Named For

Pretty horrifying really. If you want to protest something, this would be the thing.

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Western Carolina v North Carolina
Silent Sam and Julian Carr have nothing on Kenan Stadium.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Last week we briefly touched on the Silent Sam controversy in Chapel Hill and wondered why the nickname Tar Heels and the city name Carrboro (Carrboro is basically a tick on the soft underbelly of Chapel Hill) weren’t being protested as well.

As UNC’s own museum site points out, the term Tar Heel is strongly associated with North Carolina soldiers who fought for the confederacy. And Carrboro of course is named for Julian Carr, the man who dedicated the statue in 1913, with his dreadful speech, including boasting about horsewhipping an African-American woman, figuring prominently in the protests.

It seems odd to focus on the statue and let the nickname go when both are about the same thing. Carrboro is a slightly different matter but it’s essentially part of Chapel Hill so there you go.

Then a reader told us something that literally made our jaws drop: Kenan Stadium is named for a mass murderer or, at the very least, a man who sanctioned and participated in mass murder, not that that’s much better.

You may have known this; we had no idea. Here’s the story.

William Kenan Jr. donated the money for the stadium in 1926 and named it for his father, William Sr.

In 1898, in Wilmington the Republicans and Progressives joined forces to form the Fusion ticket and won political power.

This did not go over well with many whites in Wilmington and across the state. The News & Observer, then owned by Josephus Daniels and using a newish technology, printed horribly racist and inflammatory cartoons on the front page.

In Wilmington, whites basically told black leaders to get out of town or die and then prepared to act on the threat.

Kenan and the Wilmington Light Brigade managed to get their hands on a Colt 6mm machine gun, mounted it on a dray, and set out to join an armed coup d’etat was underway in the streets of Wilmington.

Kenan later said that he never shot it but he was in command of it so cannot escape responsibility or the judgement of history.

Accounts said that his squad came under fire at the intersection of Sixth and Brunswick and fired back, killing up to 25 men and possibly more. Later they also shot up the area around Manhattan Park and when you’re spraying 420 rounds per minute, it’s hard to miss. We’re sure more were killed there.

Kenan Jr. later said that “[t]here was a riot of colored men in Wilmington, and my father organized a volunteer company of men with all kinds of rifles together with a riot gun on a wagon and they cleaned up the riot very quickly, although they were compelled to kill several persons. He rode the wagon and directed the operations.”

So on September 15th, people will put on their Tar Heel regalia and file into Kenan Stadium ready to celebrate UNC’s home opener. The fact that the place is named for a vicious murderer who machined gunned people by the score? We’ve never heard a peep about it and we doubt we’ll hear one on the 15th, anymore than we expect to hear a protest of the nickname Tar Heels.

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