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UVA board votes to rename Alderman Library

In 1938 Alderman Library was named for UVA's first president, a prominent eugenicist.
University of Virginia
UVA Office of Development & Public Relations
In 1938 Alderman Library was named for UVA's first president, a prominent eugenicist.

When Alderman Library opened in 1938, UVA named it after the school’s first president, a man who supported the admission of women to its graduate and professional programs, started a school of education and boosted the endowment, but Edwin Alderman was a prominent eugenicist who argued African-Americans were inferior to whites and should not have social equality or political control.

Paul Harris, one of two Black members on the board of visitors, thought we should forgive Alderman his faults.

“I find it amazing that people can be so confident in their own rectitude," he explained. "All of the time and energy spent on this issue is an unfortunate reminder that we live in an unforgiving culture where literally anything goes, but no one is forgiven.”

A Republican placed on the board by Governor Glenn Youngkin, Harris condemned a committee that had recommended Alderman’s name be removed from the library.

“Left unchecked, many fear this committee will continue down this path and leave no stone unturned, and that is what has people of goodwill asking the same question in total exasperation: When will this end?” Harris said.

But if it were renamed, he argued the honor should go to a woman or a person of color. Instead, the board voted to name the newly renovated library after Edgar Shannon – the school’s fourth president – who spoke out against the war in Vietnam, called for the racial integration of UVA and the admission of women.

The board’s student representative, Lillian Rojas, said most of her peers supported that choice.

“With how students are responding to war in the Middle East, I think seeing Shannon and hearing the speeches that he made about Vietnam have really related to students throughout these difficult times," she said. "We’re really seeing Shannon as someone who was not only a leader in his day and age but someone we can see as a leader now.”

Board chairman John Nau noted it was a difficult decision.

“In my two terms on the BOV, I’ve never had one where it was so emotional and so destructive.”

So he proposed and the board supported leaving plaques acknowledging Alderman in place.

Updated: March 1, 2024 at 3:33 PM EST
Editor's note: The University of Virginia is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.
Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief