Virginia Tech to rename 2 buildings with controversial namesakes

The names of two controversial figures in Virginia Tech’s history will be removed from two buildings on the university’s campus.

Claudius Lee and Paul Barringer, who both have been linked to racist pasts, will be removed from two residence halls after a vote by the Executive Committee of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors on Thursday.

“I want to express my gratitude to the members of the Council on Virginia Tech History for their thoughtful deliberations and counsel on this important issue,” said President Tim Sands in announcing the decision.

The two residence halls will instead bear the names of three prominent African Americans in the school’s history book.

One hall will be named after the late William and Janie Hoge, a local African American couple that allowed the first Black students at the campus to stay with them, because they were not allowed to live on campus.

The university said the couple, both born to formerly enslaved parents, “played a critical role in the success and well-being of the first African American students” who attended the school in the 1950s. The school was called Virginia Polytechnic Institute at the time.

“The Hoge name represents the broad array of people who, in so many roles throughout the years and in untold ways, provided essential support for our first Black students,” Sands said.

James Leslie Whitehurst Jr. will be another hall’s namesake. In 1961, Whitehurst became the first African American student allowed to live on campus.

“James Whitehurst was a pioneer among pioneers and a forceful voice for effective change,” Sands said.

The decision comes after a push by students, faculty and community members to rename the two halls.

According to the school, Barringer, who served as the school’s president from 1907 to 1913, “demonstrated and celebrated his personal views as a white supremacist who favored pro-slavery and anti-Black positions.”

Another building was named after Lee, who was a key figure on the school’s electrical engineering faculty from the 1890s through the 1940s. His name became a subject of controversy in 1997, when a yearbook from 1896 was discovered in which he was presented as the “father of terror” for a group that called itself the Ku Klux Klan.

“The previous names on these two residence halls — the temporary homes of many of our students of color in recent years — were inconsistent with the rich heritage and increasingly diverse community that is Virginia Tech,” Sands said.

The executive committee’s decision will next go to the full board for ratification in late August.

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