Morgan Hall, which houses the English department on the University of Alabama campus, is named after John Tyler Morgan. He was a six-term US senator, a Confederate general and a "grand dragon" of the Ku Klux Klan.
A petition started by Jessica Hauger, a history major from Georgia, has gathered around 2,000 digital signatures just days after being posted online after author Harper Lee's death. She was surprised at the support received in having the college building renamed after Lee who was an alumni of the university.
Hauger told the Washington Post: "I thought it would get some backlash. But people started signing way more quickly than I imagined they would."
Hauger's request was backed by student newspaper the Crimson White, who supported the name change in an editorial. "John Tyler Morgan is possibly one of the most despicable people whose name is displayed on a university building, and he has some stiff competition for that title.
"His name is a disgrace to the English department housed inside Morgan Hall. His name is a disgrace to the students, faculty and staff of all colors who have to pass through its doors. His name is a disgrace to a campus striving to re-define itself as an inclusive, national academic power."
Morgan advocated sending African-Americans out of the United States and into Hawaii, the Philippines, or Cuba, and also promoted racial segregation in North America. He worked to curtail the voting rights of African-Americans, hoping to repeal the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
A university spokesperson responded to the debate with a written statement: "We are aware of the petition, and we share in the respect and admiration for Ms. Lee. She was one of our own, and she will continue to serve as an inspiration for many generations.
"In the past, buildings on our campus have been named for men and women whose contributions to the University and society were viewed through the context of the times they lived. Their history does not define us. Rather, it informs us and moves us forward. Through our strategic planning process that is underway, all points of view are being heard."
Harper Lee published To Kill A Mockingbird in 1960, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and became a classic of modern American literature, dealing with issues of rape and racial inequality. In 2006 she won the Birmingham Pledge Foundation Award for racial justice.
One year after its publication, To Kill a Mockingbird had been translated into ten languages. It has sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into over 40 languages. Since the release of her second novel, Go Set A Watchman, sales of To Kill a Mockingbird increased by 6,600%.