February 3, 2023

A University Whitewashes Its History

A woke college seems eager to remove the name of a slaveholding benefactor.

In September 2022, the University of Richmond Board of Trustees voted to change the name of its law school from the T.C. Williams School of Law to the Richmond School of Law. It was discovered that the namesake, an alumni and generous benefactor of the university and a successful tobacco merchant, owned between two dozen and three dozen slaves during the antebellum period.

All this is in accordance with a UR policy passed last year that prohibits naming any campus building or program after a person who engaged in or advocated slavery. To be sure, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence in our times. But what’s unique is what happened next.

The Williams family, led by great-great grandson Robert C. Smith, have called upon the university to return their ancestor’s generous gift, which helped establish the law school, with interest. In a lengthy letter explaining their case, Smith writes that if his ancestor’s name “is not good enough for the university, then isn’t the proper ethical, and, indeed, virtuous action to return the benefactor’s money with interest?”

It’s a great question, isn’t it?

If UR is so forthright to want to wash its hands — and indeed its history — of the stain of slavery, then it should return the supposedly dirty money Williams bequeathed it. Smith calculates that the 132-year-old gift is now worth at least $51 million. Smith says that he’s sent UR President Kevin Hallock 20 emails on the matter but has yet to receive a response.

Could it be that the Smith family has called out UR on its own hypocrisy, and the university is simply hoping that he’ll just fade away? It’s oh so typical of the Left’s virtue-signaling ways to demand a cosmetic change that suits its supposedly woke image for the public — so long as it doesn’t have to return the dang money.

The Left’s history-cleansing movement is nothing new, and this isn’t the first such example of it. The memories of former slaveholders William Peace, chief benefactor of William Peace University, and William Rice, for whom Rice University in Houston is named, have been besmirched by the woke mob. No word on a name change for either school, though, as that would cause a serious branding issue.

This Soviet-style movement has gone so far as to become ridiculous. Students at Wisconsin’s Kaukauna High School are calling for the removal of a $100,000 statue called the Galloping Ghost because it reminds them of a Ku Klux Klansman on horseback. A student at Syracuse University wrote a screed a few months back calling for the removal of a statue of Abraham Lincoln because of his role in the execution of 38 Dakota natives who were part of an ongoing rebellion in Minnesota. What the student neglects to mention is that the U.S. Army originally wanted to execute more than 300 natives for the murder of settlers during widespread fighting. Lincoln pardoned 264 of them after careful personal review of each case.

The University of Richmond and these other academic institutions have chosen woke grandstanding over learning and growing from the hard lessons of a dark time in American history. The teachable moment, though, is not that the Left is showing us the error of our ways — it’s that we’re held accountable by history rather than a movement whose sole purpose is the acquisition and exercise of power.

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