UNC Asheville Honors Trailblazers Julia Ray, Ella Bird, Wilma Dykeman, and Francine Delany With Building Naming

Julia Ray (center) with her family in front of the University of North Carolina Asheville Ray Hall.
November 5, 2021

The University of North Carolina Asheville has announced that it has honored four women known for their visionary leadership and advocacy by renaming buildings on the University’s campus. Former Hoey Hall is now named Ray Hall, for 2016 UNC Asheville honorary degree recipient and former member of the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees Julia Ray; the former Ashe Hall is named for Ella Bird, Beloved Woman of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and 2017 UNC Asheville honorary degree recipient; the former Vance Hall is now known as Dykeman Hall, to honor Wilma Dykeman, noted author, advocate for women’s rights and environmental stewardship; and the former Carmichael Hall is now Delany Hall honoring Francine Delany, pioneering Asheville educator and leader across the state of North Carolina. The new Ray, Bird, Dykeman and Delany Halls were celebrated in a reception attended by Julia Ray – who recently turned 107 years old – and her family, Wilma Dykeman’s family members, faculty, staff, and students on Nov. 3, 2021.

“This is a red letter day for the University and for our academic community,” says Chancellor Nancy Cable. “The faculty, staff, student and alumni task force was charged by our Board of Trustees to review campus buildings and to suggest leaders to honor by renaming buildings. These changes represent the values of UNC Asheville and allow us to honor leaders who are unsung heroes of this great University.”

The former Hoey Hall will honor 2016 UNC Asheville honorary degree recipient Julia Ray. Ray was the first African American on the Board of Trustees of Mission Hospital, and she served as Trustee for both UNC Asheville and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville (then called the NC Center for Creative Retirement). She also served on the Friends of the YMI and helped to establish the Goombay Festival in Asheville. Among other honors, Ray is the recipient of the Mission/MAHEC Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for her pioneering service to the Asheville medical community. She was named a “Living Treasure” by Asheville’s Living Treasure Committee in 2013. This year, on the day she turned 107 on Oct. 28, the city of Asheville proclaimed the day “Julia G. Ray Day” in her honor.

The former Ashe Hall will honor Miss Ella Bird, tribal elder and Beloved Woman, a designation bestowed upon Cherokee women who are highly respected for their service to the community, their integrity, and their good character. A fluent Cherokee speaker, she has shared her knowledge of Cherokee traditions, including medicines, quilting, and food, with her 10 children and community. She is well known among children for teaching a quilting class in the Summer Arts Camp as part of the Graham County Indian Education Program. Bird was honored as a matriarch at the 100th anniversary of the Cherokee Indian Fair. She was also recognized as a Distinguished Citizen on Ned Long Day in November 2006 and as a UNC Asheville honorary degree recipient in 2017.

The former Vance Hall now honors Wilma Dykeman, noted author, conservationist, and advocate for economic development and social justice in Western North Carolina and anywhere else that she lived. Dykeman embodied the values of environmental integrity and the power of the written and spoken word. She graduated in 1938 from Asheville-Biltmore College – the two-year junior college that grew to become UNC Asheville – and later graduated from Northwestern University. With family roots in both Western North Carolina and Tennessee, she taught creative writing and Appalachian literature at the University of Tennessee and served as Tennessee’s state historian for more than 20 years. She also served on the Board of Trustees for Berea College and UNC Asheville. She was the author of 15 nonfiction books, beginning with The French Broad in 1955, which used economic arguments to make a case against water pollution.

Carmichael Hall honors the Francine Delany, widely respected Asheville educator and leader across the state of North Carolina. A member of the class of 1966, Asheville-Biltmore College’s first baccalaureate class, and the University’s first African American graduate, Delany contributed a lifetime of service to Asheville and the surrounding community in support of childhood education. She remained a key part of UNC Asheville throughout her lifetime, serving on the Board of Trustees from 1979 to 1981 and again from 1991 until her death in June 1992, and on the Foundation Board from 1981 through 1987. In 1992, the UNC Asheville Foundation established a special fund in honor of Delany, and in 1993 she was posthumously awarded the Chancellor’s Medallion.

“Names are important symbols that reflect the values and belief systems of a community,” says Agya Boakye-Boaten, interim dean of social sciences and member of the Building Renaming Task Force. “As a community that strives for inclusivity, how we name ourselves should embody that. This is what renaming these buildings does. It allows all members of the community to feel a strong sense of belonging.”

During the 2020-2021 academic year, the UNC Asheville Building Renaming Task Force was charged to provide recommendations to the Board of Trustees regarding renaming buildings and spaces in support of the University’s strategic commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Comprised of students, faculty, staff and alumni, the Task Force was entrusted to make recommendations that align with UNC Asheville’s mission and core values, championing leaders whose positive contributions to the University and the greater Asheville community at large were significant and lasting.

“I am proud of the work performed by our task force,” remarked Chancellor Cable. “They brought on objective, historical expertise to honor leaders as the right move forward for this institution.” She continues, “Today is the first of several opportunities to celebrate Julia Ray, Ella Bird, Wilma Dykeman and Francine Delany, and those whose shoulders we are standing on each and every day.“