Give me liberty or death!
In 2021, we’ll just erase you instead for being a Dead White Male.
No white man will be celebrated in Post–George Floyd America. Not even the men who made America great.
Virginia community colleges are dropping President John Tyler and others from their names amid racial reckoning, by Nick Anderson, Washington Post, October 10, 2021
One Virginia community college is dropping from its name John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States who backed the Confederate rebellion before he died. Another is ditching Thomas Nelson Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence and prominent military and political leader who historians say enslaved hundreds of people of African descent.
A third has inserted an ampersand to emphasize that Patrick & Henry Community College is named for a pair of counties it serves in the southern region of the state. The tweak is meant to distance the two-year college previously known as Patrick Henry from the famed Revolutionary-era orator of that name who was also an enslaver.
These and other name changes within the Virginia Community College System reflect the breadth and persistence of the racial reckoning in higher education since the murder last year of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The national movement for social and racial justice led to fresh scrutiny of names honored in each of the system’s 23 colleges. In a state with a long and painful history of slavery and racial oppression — alongside a vibrant tradition of public higher education — there was much to consider.
Passions flared. Critics of the renaming process protested what they saw as political correctness run amok. Proponents said it helped the schools align with their public mission.
John Tyler Community College, near Richmond, is transitioning over the next several months to Brightpoint Community College. Thomas Nelson Community College, in Hampton, is becoming Virginia Peninsula Community College.
“We enroll lots of people whose ancestors were enslaved, were marginalized, were clearly taken advantage of,” said Glenn DuBois, the system’s chancellor. “And what do you say to those students when they’re looking at some of these names?”
DuBois pointed to Lord Fairfax Community College, based in the northern Shenandoah Valley and Fauquier County. Its name honors a hereditary title held for centuries by a British family, including an 18th-century man, Thomas Fairfax, who was an influential figure and enslaver in colonial Virginia. The family name also appears in Virginia’s Fairfax County and City of Fairfax. But the community college does not directly serve those places. Northern Virginia Community College does.
“Today, I don’t know why anyone would want to name a community college after a British lord,” DuBois said. “It just doesn’t make sense.” That school is being renamed Laurel Ridge Community College.
Some Republican lawmakers objected.
“This decision is a direct response to the ‘cancel culture’ movement, which looks to reject people and ideas that do not fit the current politically correct narrative,” U.S. Rep. Bob Good (R) wrote to DuBois in April, urging the state to keep the Lord Fairfax name. “Efforts such as these encourage an endless cycle of renaming institutions, buildings, and cities across the country under the ruse of political wokeness.”
Around the country, community colleges are often named for counties, cities or regions they serve — and some are named for historical figures with controversial legacies.
Henry Ford College, in Dearborn, Mich., honors the pioneering automaker and industrialist also known for promoting antisemitism. Multiple campuses in Alabama honor George C. Wallace and his wife Lurleen B. Wallace, who both served terms as governor during the civil rights movement. George Wallace was a fierce advocate of racial segregation during the 1960s. He later renounced those views.
There are no signs that the Ford and Wallace college names will be changed soon.
In Virginia, community colleges were founded and named in rapid succession in the 1960s and ’70s. Their emergence coincided with a huge expansion of public higher education nationwide after World War II.
Now, their names are getting a second and even third look. In July 2020 — weeks after Floyd, a Black man, was murdered during an arrest in Minneapolis — the Virginia state community college board ordered a comprehensive review of college names and campus building names with an eye to diversity, equity and inclusion. Local college boards were empowered to change problematic campus building or classroom names and to recommend college name changes. The state board has final say over college names.
When the guy who said “Give me liberty or give me death” is cancelled for his whiteness, and no longer worthy of celebrating, it’s time to admit we are running out of a nation to defend.