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UKing's Literary Society: turning the page on Haliburton

The oldest student society in North America is dropping its racist namesake, adopting “Uking’s Literary Society” as its new name.

From 1884 until August 18th, 2020, it was called the “Haliburton Society”, named after famed author, politician, and man who supported the enslavement of Black people, Thomas Chandler Haliburton.

The original goal of this group was to increase the accessibility of Canadian literature, a goal they continue. The founding students would pool their money to purchase a collectively-owned copy, and would take turns reading sections to each other. Today it meets bi-weekly for King’s students to share in reading, discussion, and the occasional glass of wine.

In the Aug. 18 online meeting, a 12-1 vote, including absentee ballots, motioned in favour of the name change. The society will state that they were formerly known as Haliburton for another year, before abandoning the name entirely.

“We’re excited that this motion passed so overwhelmingly,” society president Lucy Boyd said to The Watch. “We’re going to continue to grow and accomplish our original goals.”

The decision to change the name comes after long-standing controversy with the society’s now-former namesake. In a recently released paper, Burning Haliburton, Revisted: Questioning The Author And His Legacy, the society explains the name change.

“Just as Canadians have reckoned with our country’s troubled past, so too must we take up the challenge of examining our own history,” reads this paper. It’s a history based in violent anti-Black racism, they write. Their former namesake used his fiction to defend the enslavement of Black people; even by the standards of his time, people considered him to be a hard conservative. He held misogynistic and anti-Indigenous views, and would regularly include derogatory remarks in his writing that were harmful to both groups.

“We want to ensure that we do not glorify his views,” says Boyd. “We can discuss his views, but we need to remove him from the pedestal. We want to ensure that we keep these conversations going, but we have made it a priority to be inclusive.”

Boyd says that the society has been working hard on the name change throughout the summer. “We made sure we consulted with groups to help us make this decision. The King’s Students’ Union and Racialized Students’ Collective both expressed support of this move,” says Boyd.

“We are very proud to be the longest-standing campus literary society in the Commonwealth and North America, but it was time for a change,” says Boyd. “As we celebrate our history, we must also think of the complications with it and how we can grow towards our goal.”

[Editors note: this article was originally published with a few errors, which have been corrected for clarity: the second paragraph read as “..the enslavement of Black and Indigenous people…”, but has been changed to better fit the findings UKing’s Literary Society; the conversation regarding the name started in February, Pres. Boyd corrected after publication.]

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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