Skip to main content
Carolina Story: Virtual Museum of University History

William L. Saunders (1835-1891)

William Laurence Saunders served as a chief organizer of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina and Chapel Hill. After graduating from the university in 1854, he practiced law in Salisbury. During the war, he served as a colonel and was wounded in two battles. In 1871, he refused to answer questions before a Congressional committee investigating Klan activities but was never formally tried for his involvement. When Democrats regained power in North Carolina, Saunders became Secretary of State and arranged for the publication of North Carolina's colonial records in a series which historians still use. He served as a university trustee from 1874 until 1891. Originally constructed for the university's history department, Saunders Hall was named in his honor.

In 2014, a student organization called the Real Silent Sam Coalition led an initiative calling for Saunders' name to be removed from the building because of his leadership in the Ku Klux Klan. In May 2015, the Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the building to "Carolina Hall."