Four community colleges in Virginia recently have changed their names from those of erstwhile slave owners — and a fifth is to follow a similar suit next month — in what critics see as an example of “cancel culture.”
In the most recent change, the State Board for Community Colleges unanimously approved on Sept. 23 changing Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton to Virginia Peninsula Community College.
Thomas Nelson Jr. had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The colleges’ social justice committee noted that he “routinely bought and sold hundreds of enslaved people in his lifetime.”
The change came after the state board had approved in July recommendations by three other colleges to change their names.
John Tyler Community College near Richmond will become Brightpoint Community College. The school requested the change because the 10th U.S. president “was a slaveholder, supported slavery throughout his political career, and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.”
Lord Fairfax Community College in the Shenandoah Valley and Fauquier County has become Laurel Ridge Community College. Fairfax was a slaveholder in the 1700s and took the side of the British during the American Revolution.
Patrick Henry Community College added an ampersand to become Patrick & Henry Community College, to clarify that the Martinsville school is named after the two counties it serves, not the Founding Father known for the phrase “Give me liberty or give me death.” Henry also owned slaves.
In November, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge is expected to recommend a new name for itself to the state board, according to a press release from the board. Lancaster, who served as state superintendent of public instruction from 1941 to 1946, had advocated for equal pay for White and Black educators but also backed school segregation.
The state board ordered all of its community colleges in July 2020 to reexamine their names in the wake of racial justice protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
In May, the board adopted a new policy requiring college names to “Reflect the values of inclusive and accessible education articulated in the [state community college system’s] mission statement, with special emphasis on diversity, equity, and opportunity, and be relevant to the students it seeks to serve and to the geography of its service region.”
In approving the renaming of Thomas Nelson Community College, for instance, state board Chairman N.L. Bishop said in a statement that the college’s new name “emphasizes this college’s community and sends a welcoming and inclusive signal to the students they serve and those they seek to serve.”
However, the renaming of the schools has had opponents.
“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,” Rep. Bob Good, Virginia Republican, wrote the board in April, criticizing the renaming of Lord Fairfax Community College.
“Efforts such as these encourage an endless cycle of renaming institutions, buildings, and cities across the country under the ruse of political wokeness,” Mr. Good wrote.