HARRISONBURG, Va. (WAVY) — James Madison University’s Board of Visitors voted unanimously Tuesday to rename three buildings on campus named after Confederate leaders, with the change taking effect immediately.
The three halls on JMU’s Quad were named after Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Confederate naval officer Matthew Fontaine Maury and Turner Ashby, the “Black Knight of the Confederacy” who died in Harrisonburg during the Civil War.
Donna Harper, Vice President for Access and Enrollment Management at JMU, called it a proud moment in the university’s history.
The decision comes two weeks after University President Jonathan Alger said he was bringing the recommendation to the board, emphasizing the overwhelming support in changing the names from students and alumni, faculty and staff, and community members.
“As many have noted, these names reflected a cause that would have preserved the institution of slavery and dismantled the Union set up by the Constitution,” Alger wrote. “We know that these names are a painful reminder of a history of oppression, and that they send an unwelcoming message to Black students, faculty and staff in particular. That is not who we are or who we want to be. We embrace values of diversity, inclusion, and equity, and we know that we become a better and stronger educational institution as we strive to live out those values.”
The buildings were given temporary, “non-honorific” designations in the meantime, and an inclusive community-involved process to select new names will happen over the next year.
While discussions about changing other building names on campus will continue, Alger said there are no plans to change the name of the school, despite Madison having owned slaves.
“It is certainly true that James Madison himself owned slaves during his lifetime, and as an institution we have taken important steps to tell the full history of Madison and of his times. We recognize his flaws as well as his virtues—a combination that describes all of us, and our times as well as his … Indeed, without Madison’s life work, we might not be able to have this conversation today. This legacy is also critical to our DNA as a nation, and to our DNA as an educational institution in which we value freedom of expression.”
JMU recently named one of its newest buildings on campus after one of Madison’s slaves, Paul Jennings, who eventually purchased his freedom after Madison’s death.
Another building that JMU may consider renaming is Wilson Hall, the main building on JMU’s Quad. It’s named after former President Woodrow Wilson, who was born in nearby Augusta County.
The 28th president’s alma mater, Princeton University, recently removed Wilson’s name from their school of public policy due to his racist history, which including unprecedented segregation policies in the federal government. He’s also notoriously known for screening D.W. Griffith’s pro-Ku Klux Klan propaganda film “Birth of a Nation” at the White House.
Though Alger acknowledges it was a big move to change the names, he says that’s only the first step in making the university more equitable and inclusive.
“There is much hard work to be done, and it will take much more than changing the names of buildings. As a university, that means that we must all continue to listen, learn, and act—and to treat one another with respect as we engage in this hard work together. These are extremely stressful times for us all, but as we live out our motto of “Being the Change,” we also have an opportunity and a responsibility to call upon the better angels of our nature—as Abraham Lincoln implored the nation many years ago. It matters both what we do, and how we do it.”
JMU leadership also discussed their plans for the fall 2020 semester amid the coronavirus pandemic. To read more on the university’s plans, click here.