A committee assigned to determine whether the name of Patrick Henry Community College should be changed has decided to make a small tweak for clarity – bring back the historic hyphen.
There are a few other changes being recommended in PHCC's report to the State Board of Virginia's Community Colleges after a detailed review for potential racist undertones or histories associated with the namesakes of all the names applied to all aspects of the school.
Recommended changes include the iconic Patriot from the school’s logo and ancillary renaming of some facilities largely because the connection to their current use renders them as illogical.
PHCC’s Board of Directors heard these reports during a meeting via Zoom on Monday, and your feedback will be sought until Nov. 30 for all elements that have been reviewed.
In July, the State Board resolved that all 23 community colleges should review their names for appropriateness. In response to that mandate, PHCC’s College Board has been conducting a review for the past three months.
The primary question, though, was about the name “Patrick Henry” itself, because that iconic Patriot was known to have been a slave owner. At least one professor had recommended it be removed.
But the College Naming Review Committee, chaired by PHCC Board Chair Janet Copenhaver and board member Wayne Moore, determined that the name continues to be appropriate because the school was not named for the man but, rather, for the counties it serves: Henry and Patrick, both of whose names are derived from the man.
Bringing back the hyphen between “Patrick” and “Henry” is retro, because the punctuation was in place six decades ago on the sign of the school’s first building, when it was “Patrick-Henry Branch College,” a 2-year branch of the University of Virginia.
In 1971, the Virginia Community College System presented the opportunity either to keep or change the name when the school decided to join the community college system. Sen. William Stone indicated at that 1971 meeting that the name should be kept because of the contributions of the two counties plus Martinsville.
A Building Naming Review Committee, chaired by board members Denny Casey and John McCraw, determined there was only one name associated with the school that some might find objectionable.
That would be A.L. Philpott, a Democrat from Bassett who served as a state legislator from 1958 and became speaker of the house in 1980, a role he kept until his death in 1991. But his actions later in life balanced out any early-life actions that might indicate racism, the committee’s report implied.
“Research confirmed that A.L. Philpott’s stance on segregation changed over time,” a document from the renaming committee states, without identifying what Philpott’s earlier stance on segregation was. Southern Democrats were known to be opposed to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the report implies that he had supported segregation, because later it offers in contrast that:
In 1958 Philpott refused to go along with lawmakers who voted to close schools in an effort to block integration.
He “put his political career and life on the line to become a key ally of the nation’s first elected black governor, Mr. Douglas Wilder.”
Philpott “also supported Mary Sue Terry, who became the first woman elected to statewide office in Virginia.”
“The committee respected Philpott’s evident change of heart and his support of diversity,” the committee’s document states.
But the building review committee, in the spirit of while-we’re-at-it, recommended removing old name tags off rooms that no longer serve their original purpose. These have nothing to do with the racism review but rather just taking advantage of the name review process.
Board member Monica Hatchett of the Facilities Naming Committee said that out of the 23 classrooms, laboratories and other location names, the recommendation is to keep 20 and remove three.
Those three are:
Bassett Walker Corporation CADD Lab, which now is a wrestling facility.
Hooker Furniture Technology Lab, now used for the physical therapy assistant program.
Francis T. West Industrial Engineering Lab, now used as the Administration of Justice program’s forensics lab.
Most of the CADD, engineering and technology classes have moved to the new MET Complex that was built a few years ago, spokesperson Amanda Broome said.
The Mascot Committee, headed by Robert Haley, a Bassett attorney and board member, recommended keeping the Patriots as the mascot but getting rid of the visual symbol of the silhouette of the 1770s-era man, keeping only the compass as the visual symbol on the school’s primary logo.
Committee members “felt no persona or icon could adequately convey” the intent of the Patriots mascot, Haley said.
Once the review is submitted, the State Board of Community Colleges will assess the information therein to determine whether a change will be necessary. Only the State Board has the authority to change a community college’s name.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the year AL Philpott died.
Holly Kozelsky reports for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at email@example.com
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