Q: Ace, it seems like every structure at UVA bears the name of some wealthy, white member of The Establishment—probably the plantation owner whose slaves laid the bricks. Is the whole campus whitewashed or are there any buildings named after African Americans?—Ro Tunda
A:Good question, Ro. After all, what fresh-faced undergrad hasn’t spent many ponderous hours strolling around UVA, wondering and snickering about the stuffy suits of yesteryear whose names are now immortalized in the red brick and marble of Cocke, Balz or Woody Hall? Sure, they all contributed to the growth of UVA. But mustn’t there have been a notable black among them who lived up to the school’s high standard for building naming?
According to M. Rick Turner, UVA dean of African-American affairs, there is one, the W.E.B. DuBois Tutorial Center. But “I wouldn’t call that a major accomplishment on the part of the University of Virginia, to name a dilapidated building the W.E.B. Dubois Center,” says Turner. “I don’t give them any credit for that.” Ditto for the home of UVA’s Black Leadership Institute, the Luther P. Jackson Black Cultural Center (named for a Virginia civil rights activist and historian), which Turner overlooked in his comments.
That leaves the Carter G. Woodson Institute for Afro-American and African Studies, located in Minor Hall, which Turner says is the University’s “only program named after an African-American figure.” And that leads to the next question: Who in the name of Jefferson was Carter G. Woodson? Ace gave the pop quiz to Scot French, associate director of the Woodson Institute, who got it right on the first try: “He [was] the father of African-American history,” says French.
Woodson, an early 20th-century writer and educator, founded Negro History Week in 1926, partly to honor Frederick Douglass’ February 14 birthday. (Ace figures dubbing those heart-shaped cards “Douglasses” just didn’t have the same ring.) In 1976, 26 years after Woodson’s death, the week stretched into Black History Month.
Woodson was a native of New Canton, Virginia, and Turner says he’s not aware of any Woodson connection to UVA. But skimming the Woodson Institute’s Web page, Ace learned the name honors the “founder of African and African American Studies and [challenges] the historically white University to place the African American experience at the center of its teaching and research programs.”
It’s doubtful Mr. Jefferson’s University will ever be rededicated to George and Weezy. But as progress builds on progress, it’s only a matter of time before more successful African Americans appear on UVA maps. Ace thinks associate architecture professor and soon to be ex-mayor Maurice Cox might be a good candidate.