FREED: Time to rename Cabell Hall – The Cavalier Daily
Board of Visitors Buildings and Grounds Committee meet last March to discuss upcoming changes to Grounds. Perhaps the most eye-catching of the proposed adjustments is the approval of Rename Maury Hall at Warner Hall. The hall’s new namesake – which houses classrooms and the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps curriculum – is now Senator John Warner. His name replaces Matthew Fontaine Maury, a Confederate naval officer with no particular link at University. This change is the latest in a series of the decisions made by the administration to rectify racist roots. Although progress has been made, now is not the time to be complacent. The University administration must follow through on this commitment to change in earnest – and that means renaming Cabell Hall.
For years, students and community members calling for changes in University administration have been told that renaming these buildings is a slippery slope and erasing history is dangerous. Only a few years ago, Maury’s name and face were on buildings and statues all over Virginia. Everything started to change with George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, as James Madison University renamed their Maury Hall and Maury statue were deleted from Richmond Monument Avenue. In response to this and other similar events, some states have gone so far as to pass laws protecting building names from being amended, saying their efforts were aimed at “preserving history”. But the renaming of Maury Hall with the Curry School of Education and Ruffner Hall on Grounds went off without a hitch. Using this same process, Cabell Hall should be next on the administration’s list.
Situated at the south end of the Lawn, Cabell Hall currently serves as both a literal and metaphorical center for the university on Grounds. Joseph Cabell, the namesake of the two main university buildings on Grounds, once said of education that “it was important to educate Virginians and other Southerners in an institution that understood and ultimately supported slavery.” This information is not hidden at all — it is in the University library. The papers show that Cabell and his family possesses 1,200 enslaved workers and were strong supporters of the continuation of slavery. And this man’s last name may be inscribed on the most important academic building in the Grounds.
Hate is woven into the very bricks and mortar of Old Cabell Hall. Thomas Jefferson left the South Lawn open in his original drawing of the academic village. Beginning in the 1830s, free blacks began settling in the area just south of the University Village. In 1860, the community was called “Canada”, a reference to the number of free blacks living there. In the 1890s the University administration designed Old Cabell Hall at the end of the South Lawn to block “the area immediately south of the University grounds and in plain view…full of unsightly houses.”
Inaction is action. When the University fails to remove the names of men we know to be dangerous and evil, it fosters an environment in which the legacy of men like Cabell is tampered with, obscuring the hatred he vomited and defended. The University has a rich and long history. In a day’s walk through Grounds, you can spend the lawn rooms by Edgar Allen Poe and Woodrow Wilson, panels from the Berlin Wall and land that once belonged to James Monroe. I’m not suggesting taking action to erase that history, but I think it’s time we focused on some stories that didn’t see the light of day.
For example, Louise Stokes Hunter was the first black woman to graduate from University, earning a doctorate in education in 1953. Her story is one of resilience, strength under pressure and perseverance — all kinds of qualities that we should honor at the University. The University should take immediate steps to begin the process of renaming Cabell Hall, and I believe Hunter is the perfect candidate. The impact of black women on the history of the University is far greater than what is displayed on Grounds. At the time of writing this article, very little Black women have their names posted anywhere on the floor. Acknowledging Hunter’s importance to the history of the University is the first of many steps to acknowledging the presence of black people at the University and all the work they have done and continue to do.
If we want to continue to be the revolutionary leader in education, we complaint be, It’s time to change. Fears that removing Cabell’s name from the hall will somehow erase or tarnish the history of the University are misplaced – in fact, it will have the opposite effect. The University’s history dates back to 1819 and is littered with stories like Hunter’s, they just never see the light of day. It is high time that these stories were lit – a small step to help make more accurate the way we describe the University’s history.
Dan Freed is a ViewPoint writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. The columns represent the opinions of the authors only.