The Plaza of the Americas is surrounded by some of the oldest buildings on the UF campus, making the area rich in history. Keene-Flint Hall, tucked away on the outskirts of the square, was built in 1910, but history is still going strong for this old brick building.
A lecture hall on the ground floor of the hall was named Thursday afternoon in honor of one of UF’s first history and economics professors, Enoch Marvin Banks.
In 1911 Banks published an article in The Independent calling on the South to admit wrongdoing for trying to secede from the Union during the Civil War. This angered many Confederate companies, and they pushed to have Banks fired.
Eventually, Banks complied and handed in his resignation letter. His name, however, has not been forgotten in the history department.
With an unnamed lecture hall and a burning sense of justice, a three-person committee of UF Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society members initiated the naming of the hall with guidance from Professor Steven Noll. of history and educational adviser to the society.
In his Florida history class, Noll assigns “Free Speech at the University of Florida: The Enoch Marvin Banks Case,” reading about banks. After reading the article, one of Noll’s students, Kayla Cook, a former UF student, wanted to honor the former professor.
Cook, joined by Morgan Peltier and Briana Wiggins, pleaded to make amends for the former professor of this century.
In the past academic year, UF has come under fire for issues such as denying professors the right to testify in court cases and banning courses from including the words “critical race theory” in the title.
Recent struggles for academic freedom at UF have coincidentally mimicked the censorship Banks has faced since students chose him to be the hall’s namesake, Noll said.
“I think his story has incredible relevance today, even more than it did when these guys started the story,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I think it’s important to get his name out there and people talk about him.”
Banks was kicked out because he shared his views, and that form of censorship didn’t stop with him, said Wiggins, a 22-year-old senior major in history and international studies. He was the first in a series of people to be kicked out of the community for using his right to free speech.
Father John Francis Conoley was another who was condemned by the Gainesville community for his beliefs, Wiggins said.
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Conoley was the founder of the UF campus Catholic ministry who resented a local Ku Klux Klan chapter for his religious teachings, she said. Klan members successfully argued to ban him from campus and even physically attacked him.
Academia is about freedom of ideas, discussion and academic thought, she said.
“I think [Banks’] history is really a warning of what happens when you let too much local politics take over academia,” she said.
Getting the history department to approve the hall’s naming took two years, Noll said. COVID-19 slowed the traction of the three students, but their efforts finally paid off on Thursday.
An intimate gathering of seven people gathered outside the conference room to watch Noll hang the plaques identifying the room.
Contact Elena Barrera at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.
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Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently a college administration reporter for The Alligator. When not writing, Elena enjoys working out, going to the beach, and spending time with friends and family.