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VSU to Strip Names of Racist Figures from Buildings

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Johnston Memorial Library at Virginia State University. (Photo: Kevin Coles/Used under CC BY 2.0)

Virginia State University is renaming four buildings previously named after historical figures who held racist beliefs and supported discriminatory policies. The university says those individuals don’t represent the school’s legacy.

The historically Black university in Petersburg is changing the names of Byrd Hall, Trinkle Hall, Eggleston Hall and Vawter Hall. A spokesperson for VSU says the university has formed a renaming committee that will begin meeting in the next two weeks to come up with new names for the buildings.

Byrd Hall and Trinkle Hall were named after Harry Byrd, Sr. and Elbert Lee Trinkle, two former Virginia governors. In 1924, Trinkle signed the Racial Integrity Act, prohibiting interracial marriage in Virginia until the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia.

Byrd, who also served as a U.S. Senator, led the “massive resistance” movement against school desegregation in the 1950’s. Other monuments to his legacy have been brought into question recently, including a statue on the groups of the Virginia Capitol, which will soon be removed.

Eggleston Hall was named after Virginia’s first elected state superintendent, Joseph Dupuy Eggleston II. Despite his accomplishments in reforming Virginia education, “educational needs of Black students remained woefully neglected” during his leadership, according to a spokesperson for the university.

Vawter Hall was named after Charles Erastus Vawter, Sr., a former VSU rector and former member of the VSU Board of Visitors. Vawter also served as a captain in the Confederate Army. He was captured and became a prisoner of war at Fort Delaware in the last months of the Civil War.

“Virginia State University campus buildings and the campus environment should reflect the Institution and be a source of pride for the students, faculty, alum and staff who live and work inside them,” said VSU Vice President for External Relations Tonya Hall in a press release. “We want to ensure that the names on all of our buildings are a reflection of the rich history of our VSU story.”

The university says the building’s old names are being removed immediately, while new names are yet to be proposed. In the meantime, they are being referred to as Building B, Building E, Building T and Building V.

“The decisions to name a building or space identified with an historical individual should meet a high standard based on research and deliberation,” Hall said. “The new names will take into account the current mission, support and values of Virginia State University.”

VSU is not the only university reckoning with buildings named after racist figures. Black students at the University of Richmond have threatened to leave the school following its decision to not rename two buildings. Virginia Tech, which shares land-grant origins with VSU, still has residence halls named after both Eggleston and Vawter.