The Collegian
Thursday, December 08, 2022

UR renames law school because of namesake's role in slavery

<p>An entrance to the University of Richmond School of Law on Sept. 24.</p>

An entrance to the University of Richmond School of Law on Sept. 24.

The Board of Trustees voted on Sept. 23 to rename the University of Richmond Law School because of its former namesake’s enslavement of at least 43 people. 

After a unanimous vote, the Board decided to change the school’s name from the T.C. Williams School of Law to the University of Richmond School of Law, UR President Kevin Hallock and the Board announced in a message to community members. The decision comes six months after the Board adopted 10 naming principles, resulting in the renaming of six campus buildings.

School of Law

Banners hung to cover the engraving with the University of Richmond School of Law's old name, following the removal of T.C. Williams' name from the school on Sept. 23. 


The law school was named after Thomas C. Williams Sr., who operated tobacco businesses in Richmond and elsewhere in Virginia, including Patterson & Williams and Thomas C. Williams & Co. He attended Richmond College from 1846 to 1849 and was a member of the Board from 1881 to 1889.

In accordance with the sixth naming principle, which states that no campus entity should be named after someone who enslaved people or advocated for slavery, the Board chose to remove Williams’ name. Local government records dating back from 1857 to 1863 revealed Williams’ involvement in enslavement through his businesses and personal affairs.

The documents included the 1860 U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedule, which lists 35 enslaved men and boys under the name of Patterson & Williams in the Richmond area, according to the email from Hallock and the Board. Personal tax records show Williams was being taxed on three enslaved persons and his business on 25 to 40 enslaved persons.

“We recognize that some may be disappointed or disagree with this decision,” Hallock and the Board wrote in the message. “We also recognize the role the Williams family has played here and respect the full and complete history of the institution.” 

This change was the result of advocacy from the Black Law Student Association, which has been advocating for the removal of Williams’ name since 2019. Alumni such as Courtni Weaver, ‘21, helped establish the Anti-Racism Task Force. During her time at UR, Weaver served as the president of BLSA and, through the task force, championed the removal of Williams’ name from diplomas and the law school building. The former was accomplished in Weaver’s year of graduation, which was the first year that the diplomas did not have Williams’ name.

Finding out about the decision felt surreal for Weaver, she said. 

“After doing the research on T.C. Williams, we just knew that he didn't stand for the principles the law school now stood for,” Weaver said. “He stood for segregation and things that we're trying to put away as a university and as a law school, and definitely to make the university feel all-inclusive.”

Weaver’s successor in BLSA, Amari Wright, said the change was long overdue. She had been part of the Naming Commission’s discussions when the naming principles were being drafted in spring 2022. 

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“This isn't a perfect solution to people feeling uncomfortable on campus based on their race, but it is a good step in the right direction of the school realizing that there is a historical issue, especially with the names,” Wright said. 

The law school had started officially using the name T.C. Williams School of Law in 1920, and Williams’ family made a memorial gift of $25,000 to create the law school program in 1890, according to the message to the campus community. But, the law school has been known as the University of Richmond School of Law for more than 20 years, Hallock and the Board said.

UR’s long history with the Williams made it harder to remove the name, Weaver said. 

“The outside has been changed,” she said, “and it's a really big step. But now, it's time to change the culture inside of the institution to make students of color feel included.”

Contact editor-in-chief Jackie Llanos at jackie.llanoshernandez@richmond.edu and sports-co-editor Krystian Hajduczka at krystian.hajduczka@richmond.edu.

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