Racial concerns prompt renaming of Christian university’s auditorium

Main chapel venue at Oklahoma Christian will honor Benton and Paula Baugh, major donors and Christians involved in racial unity efforts in Houston.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

OKLAHOMA CITY — After a half-century as Hardeman Auditorium, the main auditorium where Oklahoma Christian University students assemble for daily chapel and perform the annual Spring Sing musical variety show has a new name — a change spurred by concerns over a racist statement attributed to the former namesake.

As hundreds of students in colorful costumes gathered for Spring Sing club night Tuesday night, university President John deSteiguer revealed that the assembly hall’s new name will honor donors Benton and Paula Baugh.

The Baughs are members of the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston and active proponents of racial unity efforts. They recently gave Oklahoma Christian $1 million — just their latest seven-figure donation after previous support of the university’s Bible and engineering programs.

Students greeted deSteiguer’s announcement of the newly renamed Baugh Auditorium — already dubbed the “Baughditorium” — with a standing ovation.

“For a lot of African-American students, we’re happy that the name is changing,” said Elise Miller, a sophomore from Plano, Texas. “It’s difficult to worship under the context of a man who, if you met him, probably wouldn’t like you.”

In 1966, Oklahoma Christian dedicated the 1,175-seat auditorium in memory of the late N.B. Hardeman, whom the university’s website had characterized as “a great preacher among churches of Christ in the early part of the 20th century and a longtime president of Freed-Hardeman College.”

But in more recent times, some students, faculty members and alumni raised questions about whether Hardeman was a racist.

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This story appears in the April 2019 edition of The Christian Chronicle. It was picked up by Religion News Service and distributed on its national wire.

Related: Links to all stories in “50 Years: Racial Reconciliation and the Church” series

Author: Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning journalist who has reported from all 50 states and 14 countries.