The Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) announced that its main chapel will no longer bear Samuel Miller’s name after a unanimous vote on Jan. 25 by the PTS Board of Trustees, just over a week after a demonstration held on Jan. 18 by the Association of Black Seminarians (ABS) at PTS asking trustees to remove Miller’s name.
Miller, who served as the second professor of PTS from 1813 to 1849 and helped found the institution, owned slaves and was an opponent of abolition movements, according to The Princeton Seminary Slavery Audit Report. The name change comes after extensive activism by seminary students — including a petition submitted to the Board of Trustees, some students fasting, and refusal by some students to attend chapel service until the name was changed.
The statement from the PTS Board of Trustees states, “This decision to disassociate the name Samuel Miller from the chapel is another step in Princeton Theological Seminary’s earnest commitment to greater equity, including reformation and repair of yesterday’s wrongs.”
The statement also references other changes previously implemented by the Seminary, including the renaming of the Seminary Library for Theodore Sedgwick Wright, the first African American graduate of the Seminary.
On Wednesday, Jan. 26, students gathered in front of the chapel, which will now be named Seminary Chapel, to react to the decision. Rev. Tamesha Mills, who serves as Moderator of the ABS, told the crowd, “Our hearts are glad today, knowing that we won't ever have to worship in a space named after Samuel Miller.”
“We both celebrate the Board of Trustees harkening to our loud voices, and making a sound and historic decision to remove Samuel Miller’s name from this chapel,” said Candace Lovelace, the Vice Moderator of the ABS.
Lovelace added that the removal of the name marked “a new day dawn[ing] over this chapel.”
Seminary President M. Craig Barnes also spoke at the event.
“[The Board of Trustees] chose the term ‘disassociate’ intentionally. We cannot remove Samuel Miller from our history, nor are we attempting to. That’s part of our story,” Barnes said, going on to reference a historical audit, commissioned in 2016, which led to the approval of reparations by PTS for its role in upholding the institution of slavery after student protests.
Along with the renaming of the chapel, Barnes announced the creation of a Board Task Force, which will be made up of trustees, students, alumni, faculty, and administrators, who will work to develop “guiding principles for making decisions regarding names and other honors on our buildings and other objects of.”
Barnes also spoke on the reasons that he believed the Board of Trustees voted to remove Miller’s name.
“In part, it was a response to the thoughtful petition and leadership of the Association of Black Seminarians,” he said. “But also, the many students of this campus, who reached across racial lines, language lines, theological and denominational lines, to join ABS in making this petition with them.”
At the event, one of two external signs bearing Miller’s name was removed by Mills and other ABS members. The other sign, according to Barnes, will be removed by tomorrow morning, and signs inside the chapel will be removed soon after.
“We know the physical removal of Miller’s name from the chapel is just the first step,” Mills added. “There is still healing that needs to take place on this campus. There are still remnants of slavery and racism that persist.”
Mills also emphasized the role of student activism in the removal of Miller’s name, saying, “The board voted on this decision. But if it wasn’t for the demands of ABS it would not have happened. The board voted on this decision. But if it wasn’t for the persistence of co-laborers on this campus, this would not have happened.”
In a prayer led by PTS Korean Student Association (KSA) member Linda Kwak, first read in Korean and then in English, Kwak echoed these sentiments.
“We are thankful that some of the pain that has been afflicted in this body of Christ was alleviated. Yet we know that the work is not yet done,” she said.
Amanda Calderon, a member of El Conjunto, the Latinx student group at PTS, also said a prayer at the event, first in Spanish and then in English.
Mills also thanked other student organizations at PTS, like the Anti-Racist Coalition, El Conjunto, the KSA, the Women’s Center, the Asian Association of PTS, the Gender and Sexuality Association for Seminarians, the Student Government Association Executive Board, the International Students Association, and Seminarians for Peace and Justice, as well as the Lutheran and Presbyterian groups on campus.
The event closed with a benediction by co-Social Justice Chairs of the ABS Laphon Flood-Francis and Donavan Pinner. PTS student Otis Byrd, Jr. led the singing of hymns throughout the event.
The event was held at 5 p.m. on the steps of the chapel to a crowd of about 40 people, many of whom held signs in support of the renaming.
Katherine Dailey is a Co-Head News Editor who often covers breaking news, politics, and University affairs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @kmdailey7.