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.