As the University of Virginia begins to renovate its campus, including large-scale renovations to Alderman Library and the creation of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, conversations about the persistence of UVA’s past continue to energize the student body. One key point of discussion is the name of our central library, which bears that of the University’s first president, Edwin Alderman. Yet as Virginia Magazine and The Cavalier Daily have reported, and as UVA graduate student Aldona Dye has documented in her archival work, Edwin Alderman was a white supremacist and eugenicist. His actions and his words at UVA and elsewhere evince and put into practice these beliefs.
Now is not the time to debate the relative merits of Alderman’s career. Given what we do know about him, now is the time to make a change. Now is the time to remove his name from the library and to rename it. If the library is going to be renovated, that must include its name. This would only be consistent with the University’s 2017 decision to remove the name of a noted eugenicist from a medical research building and to rename it in honor of Dr. Vivian Pinn.
We, the Graduate English Students’ Association (GESA) and the graduate students of the English Department, wish to add our voice to those calling for this name change. Perhaps the library’s title should reflect the names of those individuals whose lives, labor, and bodies were stolen by the now-demolished Anatomical Theatre, which formerly existed on the very ground where Alderman now stands.
While it is true that changing the library’s name would be a relatively symbolic action rather than a sweeping structural change, we are reminded of Alderman’s violent vision every time we say his name. 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. 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 persistance of white supremacy, discrimination, and racism on campus and in larger Charlottesville. If renaming the library is a small, but potently symbolic act, that is all the more reason for the change to be made swiftly. As Aldona Dye asked in her editorial, “If the University of Virginia is not willing to take the small action of removing a name of a long-dead racist from the main library on grounds, how can students trust that it will act in their best interests when the stakes are higher?”
We agree, and the answer is simple. Change the name. Now.
Aldona Dye, “Why UVA should rename Alderman library”
Katherine Smith, “Rename Alderman Library”
Ernie Gates, “The First President”
Ernie Gates, “Theatre of the Macabre”
Mackenzie Williams, “Reconciling President Edwin Alderman’s history with a modern U.Va.”
Gregory Dorr, “Segregation’s Science: Eugenics and Society in Virginia” (University of Virginia Press, 2008.)