VCU approves removal of on-campus Confederate names, symbols

VCU and VCU Health President Michael Rao and Board of Visitors Rector Keith Parker attend Friday's meeting. Photo by Jon Mirador

Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor

Hannah Eason, Managing Editor

Names of medical professionals, majors and families affiliated with the Confederate army before establishing colleges, facilities and auditoriums in Richmond will soon disappear from VCU’s campuses. 

Following a summer of statue teardowns by the City of Richmond, the university is moving forward in its plan to remove plaques and building names affiliated with members of the Confederacy. The board of visitors showed unanimous approval for the measures during a virtual Friday meeting.

“The symbols of the Confederacy have come to impede our mission to serve all, and that’s why I have recommended we no longer honor those symbols,” VCU and VCU Health System President Michael Rao said in a release.

The board passed a resolution to allow the Department of African American Studies to rename Harrison House, 816 W. Franklin St., where the department’s office is located. The building shares the name of Fort Harrison, which was used by Confederate forces during the Civil War.

Board members also approved renaming a School of the Arts building after Murry DePillars, a former dean. 

Six other VCU locations are up for de-commemoration following the Friday meeting:

McGuire Hall

Located at 1112 E. Clay St., McGuire Hall houses administrative offices, classrooms, laboratories, training facilities and a human science research facility. The hall was named after Hunter H. McGuire, a soldier and medical director in the Confederate army. The board voted to remove the name and all associated mentions and references to McGuire Hall.

In 1893, McGuire founded the College Physicians and Surgeons, later called the University College of Medicine, which became part of MCV in 1913. The building was dedicated to McGuire by the MCV Board of Visitors in 1927.

Baruch Auditorium

The board approved removal of a plaque outside the auditorium in the Egyptian Building at 1223 E. Marshall St. The sign commemorates Simon Baruch, an MCV graduate and surgeon for the Confederate States Army. His son, philanthropist Bernard Baruch, donated $100,000 to renovate the Egyptian Building in 1939. 

Ginter House

The Ginter House at 901 W. Franklin Street houses offices for the provost and the vice president of academic affairs, as well the offices of finance and administration, academic and faculty affairs and other departments. Ginter House was named after Lewis Ginter, a major in the Confederate army. All mentions and commemorations of Ginter will be removed on Monroe Park and MCV campuses.

Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel 

Found on the 17th floor of the West Hospital on MCV campus, the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel is currently closed due to COVID-19. The chapel honors the Confederate president and Kathryn Wittichen, a former president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The site will be de-commemorated and permanently closed, and four plaques honoring Davis and Wittichen will be removed from the chapel and the West Hospital.

Tompkins-McCaw Library

Located at 509 N. 12th Street, the library is named in honor of five members of the Tompkins and McCaw families. James McCaw and Sally Tompkins operated Confederate hospitals in Richmond during the Civil War. 

The board voted to remove the name and all associated mentions of Tompkins-McCaw from the library. Members also approved the removal of Confederate plaques and a portrait of John Syng Dorsey Cullen, a surgeon in the Confederate army, from the library.

Wood Memorial Building

The Wood Memorial Building houses VCU’s School of Dentistry at 521 N. 11th St. It’s named after Judson B. Wood, a dentist and private in the Confederate army. Wood’s name will be removed from the Wood Memorial Building, which was funded by Wood and his wife. All associated mentions and references will be removed from VCU’s campuses.

VCU’s Board of Visitors held hybrid meetings on Aug. 17 and 18 in Cabell Library to vote on the de-commemoration of Confederate symbols on campus. Photo by Jon Mirador

The board also approved the de-commemoration of several monuments, including those honoring Confederate soldiers Fitzhugh Lee and Joseph Bryan and general W.C. Wickham, in Monroe Park.

Wickham’s monument, which stood on a pedestal near Cabell Library, was pulled down during Black Lives Matter protests in Richmond.

The VCU Committee on Commemorations and Memorials recommended the removal of Confederate names and symbols in July, and each recommendation was open for public comment until July 26. The committee was established May 2019 to make recommendations on memorials, commemorations and decommemorations to the President.

Confederate symbols are terror to Black students, staff and community members,” an anonymous comment on the Harrison House forum read. “They also serve as a signal to white members of the community on what is acceptable and aligned with the mission of VCU.”

Several anonymous commenters said they would stop donating to the university if Confederate memorabilia were removed.

“The decision to remove this is a disgrace,” one commenter said of the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel. “As VCU swings more to the left and demonstrates cowardice and lack of foundational values, my estate plan will swing in the other direction.

A commenter in the Baruch Auditorium forum said “we cannot erase history,” while a comment on the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel forum read, “He was a traitor.” 

According to the Board of Visitors agenda, President Michael Rao established the President’s Committee on Confederate Commemoration in August 2017, following the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The committee was asked to conduct an inventory and analyze symbols of the Confederacy, slavery, white supremacy, and other items of an exclusionary nature on campuses.

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