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Curry seeking public comment about renaming effort

The University of Virginia’s education school is seeking public input about two of its namesakes.

In November 2018, the Curry School of Education and Human Development announced it was re-examining its name and the name of its main building. Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry and William Henry Ruffner had ties to slavery and the Confederacy.

The school now has launched a website chronicling Curry and Ruffner’s lives.

“For the past year, the committee has worked diligently to understand the lives of these two men, their contributions to public education and their relationships with slavery and secession,” Dean Bob Pianta wrote in a message Tuesday, announcing the website launch.

Pianta said that the school wanted to examine whether Curry and Ruffner were names the school still wanted to be associated with.

The Curry namesake was one suggested by benefactor John D. Rockefeller, who pledged $100,000 to found a school of education in 1905.

Curry was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the First Confederate Congress and an officer in the Confederate army, according to the Encyclopedia Virginia. After the Civil War, he became an advocate for public education in Virginia, working on both rebuilding destroyed schools and enforcing basic access to industrial schools for black students.

“Up through the Civil War, Curry was not only a slaveholder himself, but an ardent defender of slavery, and a lead orator and legislator on the subject to Confederate audiences,” his biography on the new UVa site states.

William Henry Ruffner was a slaveowner and chaplain who advocated for the gradual emancipation and colonization of the state’s African-Americans, according to the encyclopedia. He was the architect and first superintendent of Virginia’s segregated public school system. Ruffner Hall was named after him in 1974.

The website will allow the public to submit “reflections.” Those comments will be reviewed, according to the university, and Pianta will submit a memo with any recommendation to the University Committee on Names for its consideration. That committee will then send its recommendation to President Jim Ryan. The Board of Visitors has final authority over any names or renamings.

According to university spokesman Brian Coy, Ryan has not yet made any decision on the Curry name.

Pianta said the process of investigation and discovery is critical for any institution, but especially for a school of education and human development.

“We think about this process through the lens of education,” Pianta said. “How can we conduct a process that helps educate all of us on what has come before? Can we create a resource that will be a teaching tool for our current community?”

The school’s work comes amidst ongoing efforts at the university to excavate and examine its history of slavery and segregation.


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