Update: In June 2020, the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents voted to remove Murray’s name from both Murray Hall and North Murray Hall. That was the correct decision, this is an old post with views I no longer support. I’m leaving up, however, because old ideas shouldn’t be erased but apologized for and rejected. Both buildings currently have temporary names as the University considers permanent names.
In the 1930s Oklahoma A&M president Henry G. Bennett wanted some new buildings from the alphabet soup of New Deal public works programs. He managed to secure Murray Hall, what used to be a female dorm and now the home to multiple academic departments (including history). In an attempt to reduce opposition from Oklahoma Governor William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray, Bennett shrewdly named the new building Murray Hall and invited the governor to the unveiling. So Murray Hall is a testimony to a skillful game of politics.
Murray Hall is also named for an Oklahoma politician who wrote a large part of the Oklahoma constitution, later served as a US Representative, Senator, failed leader of an agricultural community in Bolivia, and governor of Oklahoma. Murray’s platform centered around agricultural relief and a regular willingness to use the National Guard to control everything from oil production to disputes over toll bridges on the Red River. Murray attempted to parlay his success in Oklahoma into a national campaign of “Bread, Butter, Bacon and Beans” against FDR in the 1932 election only to lose miserably.
Murray, like most people in Oklahoma during the period, was also a outspoken racist and anti-Semite who supported segregation and opposed industrialization and urbanization. Murray’s campaign for governor even went so far as to list him running against the “Three C’s—Corporations, Carpetbaggers, and Coons.”
All of this is to say the Murray was a lot of things but regardless of what he did, he played an important part in Oklahoma’s history. When Oklahoma State University began the process of renovating Murray Hall as a new home for a number of Arts & Sciences departments, a number of people on campus raised the issue of whether a central campus building should still be named after a person like Murray. As one professor put it in 2007, “The issue should be about the university and how the university wants to be perceived from this point forward." Yet the name stayed on the building but the history department, lead by Dr. Bill Bryans, created a public history department for the building’s main lobby that explained the history of the building and Alfalfa Bill, warts and all.
Last week the student government association passed a bill that calls for the renaming of Murray Hall. The bill’s author, Temitope Akande, argued that “The university will be a better place when the building (name) is changed.” I applaud Akande for taking a stance he believes in, but Murray Hall has been an important piece of the University.
The night before the building was to be unveiled Murray climbed up and peered behind the curtain covering the front of the building to make sure his name actually was on it. North Murray Hall, which sits right next door to (South) Murray Hall is also a testament to New Deal politics as Bennett only got funding for the building because the government considered it an addition to Murray Hall. Bennett managed that by connecting the two buildings by a small open air walkway.