State board urges renaming of 2 Virginia community colleges


RICHMOND, Va. — The board that oversees Virginia’s community colleges has asked two schools to reconsider their decisions to keep names that honor people who owned slaves or advocated for segregation.

The Roanoke Times reported that the State Board for Community Colleges, which has authority over the institutions’ names, requested last July that the 23 schools evaluate the names of their colleges and buildings.

Five honor slaveholders, confederates or segregationists, according to the newspaper. While three of them have started the renaming process, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College and Patrick Henry Community College told the board they planned to keep their names.

Dabney Lancaster was a longtime educator who advocated for white and Black teachers to earn equal pay, according to the newspaper. But he also supported school segregation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

“When you look at his activities and his positions during that time, it’s not a profile in courage,” Richard Reynolds, a board member and former member of the state House of Delegates, said.

Most members of the Clifton Forge college’s local board, comprised of white and Black members, said Lancaster’s contributions to education outweighed his efforts to prevent integration.

Ingrid Barber, who is Black, was “not passionate about renaming the college” but said it was important to create a comfortable learning environment.

John Rainone, Dabney Lancaster’s president, told the board May 19 that the decision to keep the name resulted from discussion and a survey of students, faculty and staff.

Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville said it will hold more meetings to discuss renaming after telling the state board it planned to keep the name.

Members of the governing body said a hyphen could possibly be inserted between “Patrick” and “Henry” in an attempt to differentiate between Virginia’s first governor who owned slaves and the two counties the school serves.

But state board member Dana Beckton said the two counties are named after Patrick Henry, the Founding Father who famously declared “Give me liberty, or give me death” at the second Virginia Convention in 1775.

“Putting a hyphen in does not automatically or clear up the convention behind the name,” she told the newspaper. “I don’t want us to get stuck on a hyphen and think the hyphen will cure it.”

The board approved requests to remove the names of three slaveholders — John Tyler, Lord Fairfax and Thomas Nelson — from other community colleges. The institutions will bring new names to the governing body this summer.

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