The effort to develop alternative names has been geared toward finding someone whose achievements are as widely acclaimed as Calhoun’s are abhorred. ...
There has been a surge of interest this week, however, in renaming the college after a Yale graduate who did not go on to topple barriers in any field — not in politics, not in the law, not in the arts. Many are writing to university officials asking that the college be rededicated to Roosevelt “Rosey” Thompson, who died at age 22, in an auto accident on his way back to Yale after spring break. It happened March 22, 1984, two months before Thompson’s graduation.
His story offers new insight into the symbolic freight of names and titles, particularly at institutions of higher education, and on the competing values at stake in paying tribute to certain lives.
“I was stunned,” said Augie Rivera Jr., who was Thompson’s roommate for three years, recounting how he learned of his friend’s death. “Those of us who knew Rosey lurched and limped through the rest of the semester.”
Thompson hailed from Little Rock, Ark., where he attended Little Rock Central High School, the location of the famous showdown over school integration in 1957. Former president Bill Clinton, for whom Thompson had interned in the governor’s office in Little Rock, is said to have cried at his funeral.
In a documentary titled “Looking for Rosey,” then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently a Democratic candidate for president, said Thompson was “truly one of the most remarkable human beings I have ever, ever known.”
Though Thompson did not trumpet his own ambitions, former friends and classmates said, many assumed he would eventually be elected the first black governor of Arkansas and ultimately ascend to federal office, perhaps even to the presidency of the United States.