By Hannah Lester
An incoming freshman enters Auburn University — flush with excitement, wondering who they will be, what they will accomplish. Many freshmen will now enter the doors of Bessie Mae Holloway Hall and will be reminded of those who came before them, leaving their mark.
Auburn University renamed two buildings last week — each after an African-American female trailblazer at Auburn.
The first building to be renamed was Tiger Hall — incoming freshman will now live in Bessie Mae Holloway Hall.
Holloway was Auburn University’s first African American Board of Trustee member and a lifelong educator. From 1985 to 2000 Holloway served as a voice for the students at Auburn.
“The stories that you hear about the students and her and her devotion to the kids is really what makes her so very special to us in Auburn,” said Auburn President Jay Gogue. “She had a great life and a great legacy that she’s left.”
Before her time at Auburn University, she was a resident of Prichard, Alabama, and taught in Mobile County. She received her bachelor’s degree at Alabama State University, her master’s degree at Xavier University and her doctorate degree at Auburn University.
“She was devoted in advancing inclusion and diversity in her role as a trustee and served as a role model to many students in leading meaningful change here at Auburn University,” said Bobby Woodard, vice president of student affairs at Auburn.
Renaming Tiger Hall was one of the first decisions made by the Presidential Task Force for Opportunity and Equity of the university, said Jim Pratt, trustee and one of two co-chairs for the task force.
“We want to start by doing positive, constructive things,” he said. “And what could be more positive or more constructive than honoring someone that deserves to be honored.”
Stephani Johnson-Norwood, council member in Prichard, Alabama, presented a proclamation for the renaming to Norman Vivians, Holloway’s nephew. The proclamation will hang inside Holloway Hall.
“I’m praying that will be a beacon of light to all those students, especially the fact that they are first-year students, just as she continues to be a beacon of light to us in Prichard and the students in Prichard,” Johnson-Norwood said.
Holloway was named as a trustee by former Alabama Governor George Wallace.
“The same Governor Wallace, who stood in the door of the schoolhouse and said, ‘segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.’ He picked her for the first African-American board of trustees [member],” Johnson-Norwood said. “How awesome was she? She’s so awesome.”
Elizabeth Huntley, trustee and co-chair of the Presidential Task Force for Opportunity and Equity, is the second female African-American trustee, following in Holloway’s steps.
“Having a student’s residence hall named after Dr. Holloway serves to remind all Auburn students past, current and future that with perseverance through adversity and work, hard work, anything is possible,” Huntley said.
Holloway advocated for Auburn University students, Huntley said, and wanted to be involved in all aspects of their lives.
“She was truly concerned about the issues affecting students and she rolled her sleeves up and wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on to see how the board could play a supportive role,” Huntley said. “She listened to the student voice and she was a truAe student’s trustee.”
Huntley said that Gogue pointed out to her almost nine years ago that there were no buildings on Auburn’s campus named after African-Americans.
Auburn has been taking steps to rectify that. In 2020 the student center was named after Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton. Following the naming of Bessie Mae Holloway Hall, the university renamed Eagle Hall after Dr. Josetta Brittain Matthews.
A sign now stands in front of the dorm with Holloway’s name displayed prominently.
“With this naming we also reaffirm the devotion to the ideals of the Auburn Creed as we continue the long-term, deliberative work toward advancing and promoting opportunity and equality,” Pratt said. “… She is one of those individuals whose left footprints in time, setting the course for us going forward and so we honor her.”