Board of Visitors Executive Committee approves new names for residence halls
At its meeting held online Thursday afternoon, the Executive Committee of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors voted unanimously to remove the names Claudius Lee and Paul Barringer from campus residence halls.
In addition, the committee voted to name the residence hall located at 570 Washington Street, SW (formerly known as Lee Hall) for the late Janie and William Hoge, a local African American couple who played a critical role in the success and well-being of the first African American students attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute in the 1950s.
Born in the 1880s to formerly enslaved parents, the Hoges hosted Irving L. Peddrew III when he arrived in Blacksburg in 1953. From 1953 through 1959, the Hoges hosted several young men who had been admitted as engineering undergraduates but who, on racial grounds, were denied housing on campus. Their care and support of these students played an essential role in facilitating the beginnings of African American enrollment at Virginia Tech. The last of the original six to attend Virginia Tech, Matt Winston and Essex Finney, graduated the fall of 1959. Mrs. Hoge died the following June 1960. Mr. Hoge then moved with his son in Norfolk and died in 1964.
The committee also voted to name the campus residence hall located at 240 Kent Street (formerly known as Barringer Hall) for James Leslie Whitehurst Jr. ’63, the first Black student permitted to live on campus in 1961. Upon graduation, he became a fighter pilot with the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam, was a major in the Air Force Reserve in Virginia, and was a member of the Air National Guard.
He also was the first African American to serve on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, serving from 1970 to 1974. As an attorney, he operated a private law practice in Richmond, Virginia, until his retirement. Whitehurst died in 2013.
“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. “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. Because the Council sought input from existing groups, commissions, faculty, staff, students, and alumni within the university community, it helped us arrive, in a unified voice, at today’s decision.”
Sands added that the Council on Virginia Tech History will continue to advance its charge of telling the broader histories of Virginia Tech in preparation for the university’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2022.
In a message to the Virginia Tech community June 8, Sands asked that the issue of Lee Hall be reviewed again and asked the Council to provide a recommendation to the University Commemorative Tributes Committee on this matter. In its deliberations on Lee Hall, the Council also considered the Barringer Hall name and brought forth its recommendation to remove those two names from the residence halls. Bob Leonard, professor in the School of Performing Arts and chair of the Council on Virginia Tech History, contributed research and support to this effort. The work of the Council on this matter was aided by the scholarship and research of Peter Wallenstein, professor in history in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
The Commemorative Tributes Committee reviewed and endorsed the recommendation from the Council for this change and framed the four resolutions that were endorsed by President Sands and approved at today’s Executive Committee meeting. Virginia Tech’s Faculty Senate was consulted on the new names for the two residence halls and shared its support for the names.
The residence hall now named Hoge Hall currently houses two living-learning communities, both of them in engineering, which was the area of study that the students staying with the Hoges were required to follow if they wished to remain enrolled at VPI.
“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,” said Sands. “By naming this residence hall for William and Janie Hoge, it also acknowledges the many important connections between campus and community.
“James Whitehurst was a pioneer among pioneers and a forceful voice for effective change,” continued Sands. “He was committed to a life of serving others, blazing a trail for generations of students of color coming after him to live and learn in a space that was initially denied to him. He is an inspiration to our students and all members of our community.”
The building formerly known as Lee Hall was named for Claudius Lee, who was a key figure on the electrical engineering faculty at Virginia Polytechnic Institute from the 1890s to the 1940s. However, over the past several decades, the appropriateness of having his name on a building has been strongly challenged.
The matter came up in 1997 when students in a new History of Virginia Tech class came across a disturbing page in the 1896 student yearbook, The Bugle, which Lee, a graduating senior that year, presented himself as president — “father of terror” — of a group that called itself the “K.K.K.”
Paul Brandon Barringer was born four years before the Civil War broke out and lived until the eve of American entry into World War II. A medical doctor, a professor, and an academic administrator, he served as chairman of the faculty (the equivalent of president) at the University of Virginia before being recruited as president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, succeeding John McLaren McBryde who had stepped down.
He served just over six years (1907 to 1913) as president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, before resigning his post after a tenure plagued with controversial and contentious leadership. His public speeches and writings that were popular throughout the South prior to, during, and subsequent to his time as university president demonstrated and celebrated his personal views as a white supremacist who favored pro-slavery and anti-Black positions.
The Executive Committee has the authority to vote on resolutions on behalf of the full board. Today’s decision by the committee will be brought before the full board membership for ratification when it meets Aug. 23-25 in Blacksburg.