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UVA tables decision to scrub first president’s name from library

Grad students accused the first president of the university of promoting racism and eugenics

The University of Virginia deferred until next year a decision on renaming the school’s main library following criticisms that its namesake, UVA’s first president Edwin Alderman, advocated racism and eugenics.

“It’s shrouded in secrecy right now, but I doubt that it will go through,” Tom Neale, president of The Jefferson Council, told The College Fix in a phone call on Jan. 3.

The Jefferson Council is a UVA alumni organization promoting civil dialogue, intellectual diversity, and the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, according to its website.

“I think there’s been enough heat and letters flying through from alumni,” Neale said. “Perhaps a bit of rationality is seeping in.”

“Just like Jefferson, like any flawed individual, he had a lot of admirable qualities, and they’re trying to bury that,” Neale said, referring to Alderman (pictured).

The Board of Visitors’ Buildings and Grounds Committee deferred a vote on renaming the library at its Dec. 7 meeting, The Daily Progress reported.

The committee listed “Naming: The Edgar Shannon Library” as an item in its meeting agenda.

“In recognition of the many contributions of the University’s fourth president, Edgar F. Shannon Jr., the University, with the endorsement of the Naming and Memorials Committee, proposes renaming Alderman Library as ‘The Edgar Shannon Library,’” the agenda item stated.

The Fix left a voicemail on Jan. 3 requesting comment on the tabled name change with Elyse Girard, executive director of communications and user experience at the Alderman library. The Fix also sent requests for comment to several members of UVA’s communications team. It has not received a response.

UVA stated in a news release that “the UVA Library is pleased to open the renovated library to the public on Jan. 8, 2024,” with no mention of the name “Alderman.”

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Aldona Dye, then a doctoral candidate in “critical and comparative studies of music” at UVA, first proposed the name change in a July 30, 2019 editorial in Virginia Mercury.

“While Alderman’s racism and belief in eugenics are generally known, reading his own words firmed my conviction that keeping his name on the library is unacceptable,” Dye wrote.

She cited an address given by Alderman to The American Historical Association and The American Economic Association on Dec. 29, 1903, in which he stated:

It is a solemn duty of the white man to see that the negro gets his chance in everything save social equality and political control. […] This does not mean that the lower should be prevented from rising, but that it should not be permitted to break down the higher. […] Social equality and political control would mean deterioration of the advanced group, and the South is serving the Nation when it says it shall not be so.

The Graduate English Students Association at UVA wrote in favor of Dye’s proposed change in a Dec. 2019 statement.

“The linkage of modern education with hateful racial science is on our lips every time we refer to or enter this building— one of the most striking central features of our campus,” students wrote.

“It is time to reclaim the library in the name of racial justice and equality. This symbolic action is one small part of the necessary, ongoing effort to address the legacies of slavery, racism, and eugenics at UVA and to address the persistence of white supremacy, discrimination, and racism on campus and in larger Charlottesville,” they continued.

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IMAGE: University of Virginia

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