Christian Chronicle

Despite petition, Harding to keep George S. Benson’s name on its chapel venue

The Christian university’s president pledges to honor slain alumnus Botham Jean ‘in his own unique way on our campus.’

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

Harding University will retain the name of its daily chapel venue — Benson Auditorium — despite an online petition signed by more than 18,000 that characterized the late George S. Benson as “a vocal racist and supporter of segregation.”

Bruce McLarty, president of the 4,900-student Christian university in Searcy, Ark., revealed his decision in a lengthy online statement titled “On the matter of the Benson Auditorium.”

“Rather than remove his name, the University needs to tell the more complete story of Dr. Benson — both the high points and the low points, the inspiring and the painful,” McLarty said in response to the petition.

Benson served as president of Harding, which is associated with Churches of Christ, from 1936 to 1965. 

“His letters and his speaker’s notes testify to the complex life and thoughts of a man who had human flaws, but who kept growing and changing his entire life,” McLarty said. “Dr. Benson indeed gave speeches in chapel opposing integration of Harding College in the late 1950s. That he said these things is true, and Harding University regretfully acknowledges that. Yet, before the end of his tenure, this man who defended racial segregation presided over the integration of Harding College in 1963.”

Jackson House, a 2014 Harding graduate, organized the petition drive amid national racial unrest after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd.

House, who recently served two years as a Christian volunteer working with Muslim refugees in Greece, voiced disappointment with McLarty’s decision.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the August edition of The Christian Chronicle.

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