Washington and Lee University will rename two buildings and make changes at Lee Chapel, part of several moves as the private university confronts its complicated history.
Portraits of Robert E. Lee and George Washington wearing military uniforms that hang in Lee Chapel will be changed to portraits of the men in civilian clothing. Lee, the Confederate general and former president of the school, is buried in the chapel. The door to the chamber in the chapel that houses a recumbent statue of Lee will be closed during school events, to mark a separation between the university and the memorial.
A year ago, Washington and Lee’s president, William Dudley, convened a commission to examine the school’s legacy after violence erupted in Charlottesville amid rallies to support a monument to Lee. It was a divisive topic, with many alumni cherishing the traditions at the school and worried that new leadership might replace the rich history with political correctness. Others warned that holding too tightly to the past could make many students and faculty feel unwelcome at the Lexington, Va., campus.
Among the recommendations of Dudley’s commission on institutional history and community: “Re-name Robinson Hall immediately. The hall’s association with slavery at Washington College — i.e., that the Robinson bequest included enslaved persons who labored at the institution until the institution sold them to others — gives special urgency to this proposal.”
On Tuesday, the board of trustees and Dudley announced that Robinson Hall would be renamed Chavis Hall, to honor the first African American to receive a college education in the United States. John Chavis graduated from Washington Academy, the predecessor to Washington and Lee, in 1799.
The Lee-Jackson House, which had honored Confederate leaders, was renamed Simpson House to honor the first woman to become a tenured professor at the school. Pamela Hemenway Simpson died in 2011.