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Oklahoma Christian University renames Hardeman Auditorium

Oklahoma Christian University President John deSteiguer presents Paula and Benton Baugh of Houston, Texas, during a ceremony to rename an auditorium on the OC campus in the couple's honor. [Photo by Hayley Bentley]
Oklahoma Christian University President John deSteiguer presents Paula and Benton Baugh of Houston, Texas, during a ceremony to rename an auditorium on the OC campus in the couple's honor. [Photo by Hayley Bentley]

A metro-area university renamed its largest auditorium on Tuesday to pay tribute to a Texas family that has donated more than $3 million to the school.

And along the way, Oklahoma Christian University rescinded the venue's previous name because the individual's alleged history of racism was an issue for some students and faculty.

OC held a special ceremony Tuesday to name the space formerly known as Hardeman Auditorium in honor of Benton and Paula Baugh of Houston.

OC President John deSteiguer said the private Christian university at 2501 E Memorial Road wanted to recognize the Baughs' recent $1 million donation, plus other donations of $1.7 million in 2013 to endow a preaching chair in the school's College of Biblical Studies, and a $1 million donation that served as startup funds for the College of Engineering and Computer Science. OC leaders said the Baughs also award thousands of dollars to middle and high school students who compete in the university's annual Baugh Wind Energy Design Competition and they have donated almost $200,000 to fund the Baugh Motion Capture Studeo, used by OC gaming and animation students.

"I feel great that we're able to honor a very special couple in this special way," deSteiguer said.

He said reasons for renaming of the auditorium also went beyond honoring the Baughs.

The venue has been the site of of many school functions and major public events and activities since it opened in 1966. Most recently, members of the school and the general public crowded into the auditorium for a presentation featuring civil rights leader Andrew Young, as part of the school's popular "History Speaks" series typically held annually during Black History Month.

DeSteiguer said over the years, some students and faculty made him aware that the auditorium's previous namesake, prominent Church of Christ minister N.B. Hardeman (1874-1965), had been well known as racist. The university president said he found out that many of them, particularly students of color, felt uncomfortable gathering in the auditorium where the school holds daily chapel services.

He said the university enrolled 2,259 students in fall 2018 and 32 percent were students of color.

"This is our central place, our largest space. We really want OC to be hospitable to our core values," deSteiguer said. "It just hurts that some of our students didn't feel welcome in coming there."

At his request, signage featuring the Hardeman name was taken down from the auditorium over Christmas break 2018 with little fanfare.

It didn't go unnoticed, and was a story in a January edition of the school's newspaper The Talon.

The paper reported that Foy E. Wallace Jr., a prominent Church of Christ minister, wrote that Hardeman refused to shake hands with "misguided" black Church of Christ leaders who wished to be introduced to the preacher at a meeting in Texas. Wallace wrote that Hardeman preferred to greet the black ministers outside the church hall. DeSteiguer said Wallace's account found in a book was among the documentation he was made aware of.

Gary Jones, OC's assistant dean of students, who is black, said he heard concerns about Hardeman from both students and faculty. A self-described "PK" or preacher's kid, Jones grew up in the Church of Christ fellowship and said he had heard about Hardeman's racism over the years. So when he realized the auditorium would be renamed, he was proud, relieved and concerned.

"It was a feeling of pride because I felt like we had done something important as an institution and relief because diversity is one of the things I deal with every day on my job," Jones said. "I also felt concern because I knew this wouldn't be an easy burden for the institution to bear and yet it was the good thing to do."

Both he and deSteiguer said they have received emails from people wanting to weigh in on the matter.

Jones said he received about 40 emails from people he didn't know, many of whom offered additional documentation supporting the allegations of racism against Hardeman.

DeSteiguer said he received feedback from some individuals who questioned his decision.

DeSteiguer said it's no coincidence that the Baughs are involved in numerous positive activities that bring people of different races together, including the Houston area's Campaign for Christ, an initiative in which members of white, black and Hispanic Churches of Christ serve the community together.

"God's hand is in this," he said.

Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›