A Virginia Commonwealth University worker took a hammer and flathead screwdriver last month and pried off the letters of the name “Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel” in the West Hospital building.
It was among the earliest visible changes in the school’s ongoing process of removing Confederate-associated names from its buildings and removing commemorations. The school’s board of visitors unanimously approved a resolution in September to remove 16 names, plaques and other symbols on campus that honor people associated with the Confederacy.
Though the university began the discussion of removing Confederate-associated names in 2017, it took decisive action in August following the nationwide protests of the police killing of George Floyd and the removal of Confederate statues on Monument Avenue.
It voted to remove from its campus the names of Lewis Ginter and James Dooley, who were Confederate soldiers before they became significant benefactors to the Richmond community.
Workers removed a plaque on the Egyptian Building that commemorated the Medical College of Virginia’s role in the Civil War. They unscrewed plaques to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, in the now-closed chapel that had been named for him. They dismantled a plaque recognizing Alexander Stephens, who was vice president of the Confederacy, from McGuire Hall on the VCU School of Medicine campus.
The Tompkins-McCaw Library was renamed and a more generic title was chosen, the Health Sciences Library. The library got its name in 1950, inspired by five members of the Tompkins and McCaw families. Sally Tompkins operated a hospital in Richmond during the Civil War and was commissioned by the Confederate army. James B. McCaw was the commander of the Chimborazo army hospital on Chimborazo Hill in the east end of the city.
VCU said it will return some artifacts to their original donors.
VCU added a commemoration, too. The previously unnamed School of the Arts building on Broad Street was named for Murry DePillars, who was dean of the School of the Arts from 1976 to 1995.
The university still has a ways to go. It has identified 27 plaques, signs, letters, a bust and a statue pedestal that were scheduled to be removed or covered over. So far, seven have been completed.
On the Egyptian Building, an entire door and its plaque will be removed and replaced with a new door. The words Tompkins-McCaw Library were engraved in stone and will be covered with a new layer of limestone. The bust of McGuire was removed in early December. The stone base of the Howitzer statue, which was toppled by protesters last summer, was trucked away a week after McGuire.