Richmond law school latest to drop slaver namesake

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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  • Since 1920, the school has officially been named after a businessman and tobacco donor who owned slaves
  • At least five law schools have removed references to historical figures in the past two years

September 26 (Reuters) – The University of Richmond removes an early donor of its law school’s official name after it was discovered he owned slaves, marking the latest in a series of related law school name changes. to the conduct of historical figures.

On Friday, the university’s board of trustees voted unanimously to change the law school’s official name from TC Williams School of Law to University of Richmond School of Law. Former namesake Thomas C. Williams, Sr. operated two Virginia-based tobacco companies in the 1800s and owned and managed slave labor both professionally and personally, according to newly discovered government documents and historical logs.

“We recognize that some may be disappointed or disagree with this decision,” university president Kevin Hallock said in a Sept. 24 email to students. “We also recognize the role the Williams family has played here and respect the full history of the institution.”

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Also on Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill renaming the University of California Hastings College of Law to the University of California San Francisco College of Law. The long-debated change could take effect as early as January 1, 2023, and eliminate reference to Serranus Hastings, a former California Supreme Court justice who founded the law school in 1878.

The law school approved the change in July and state lawmakers approved it in August. Historians say Hastings orchestrated the killings of Native Americans in order to evict them from the ranch land he purchased in Northern California.

The transition to Richmond Law will likely be muted. University officials said people have been calling the school the University of Richmond Law School for 20 years. But it was officially the TC Williams School of Law since 1920, after Williams’ family made several donations that helped establish the law school.

The university’s board of trustees adopted principles in March that no building, program or entity can be named for anyone who owned slaves or participated in slavery

At least five law schools have changed names, renamed buildings or removed other references to historical figures in the past two years.

Cleveland State University is set to change the name of its law school to remove a reference to John Marshall, who served as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835. The school is called currently the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, but the former judge has come under renewed scrutiny for his criminal record confirming slavery and his ownership of large numbers of slaves.

The University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law dropped Marshall from its name in May 2021, after nearly a year of discussions among students and alumni.

The University of California, Berkeley School of Law removed the name of attorney John Henry Boalt from its main building in 2020. Boalt was a leading proponent of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The Carey Law School at the University of Pennsylvania said it remove the name of former United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney on a limestone medallion outside one of his buildings. Taney wrote the 1857 majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford, who upheld slavery.

Read more:

Ex-judge’s slave past prompts change of Ohio law school’s name

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Reporting by Karen Sloan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Jon J. Epps