Names have a power about them. They signal something — values, legacies, who to ask for a loan if some kid is named Rockefeller in your class — you get the idea. Some names mark tragedies. Jefferson. Columbus. With time, folks occasionally make the decision to distance themselves from the bad status that can cling to names. Law schools are no exception.
The name of a businessman who owned slaves will no longer be on the University of Richmond Law School, according to an announcement.
The name T.C. Williams will be removed from the University of Richmond Law School, adhering to the university’s naming principals which prohibit the school from naming buildings, programs, professorships or other entities for a person who directly engaged in trafficking and/or enslavement of others of openly advocated for the enslavement of people.
I am sorry to shock those select few that have read my articles over the last year or so, but I have to stand in my truth. No longer honoring a man who made his money profiting off of slavery is, in fact, a win in my book. I know I know, it may take some time to adjust to this new information. If you unfollow me on twitter as a result, I will understand.
From a longer post the school released explaining the name change:
Recently located government records dating from 1857 to 1863, and a newspaper notice from 1864, document Williams’s involvement in enslavement as an individual and through businesses in which he had direct ownership and an active management role. These records include the 1860 U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedule, which enumerates 35 enslaved men and boys under the name of Patterson & Williams in the Richmond area; personal property tax records from several Virginia localities that show Williams’s businesses being taxed on 25 to 40 enslaved persons in those years; and personal property tax records showing Williams as an individual being taxed on three enslaved persons. The newspaper notice placed by Thomas C. Williams & Co. advertises a reward for the return of two men enslaved by the company, Todd and Alex, who had recently escaped its Danville-area farm.
Upon review of this information and given the clarity of the evidence, the Board acted expeditiously in accordance with the Naming Principles.
As folks chew historical cud and think about legacies left and to be left, renamings and retellings are a natural part of that process — take for example California’s decision to remove the word “Squaw” from place names and the recent interest surrounding The Woman King. And as time passes and we’ve had time to reflect on the past, one corrective measures may too be criticized for their history.
While the historical record is static, the way we think of and deploy history is not. I look forward to seeing how the legal field, its schools and rulings, will respond to its past, present and future.
University Of Richmond Renames Law School [WRIC]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.