Dear Longwood Community,
July 1 marks a New Year’s Day of sorts for the academic year ahead, and it is also an appropriate moment to turn a new page in our history. Three important campus buildings are entering the final stages of completion and set to all be open with the start of the fall semester. At the same time, in our community here and across the nation, there is a moment of reckoning and commitment that the names of our buildings fully reflect the values of our institution, and of the people who live, learn and work in them every day.
As we head into the new year, I am today sharing news of three steps we will take on campus in this regard.
- In the weeks ahead, work will be completed on the new 43,000-square foot academic building in the heart of campus. It is a spectacular space that strengthens the beauty of campus and speaks to our future --- honoring the spirit and practice of Civitae, it will serve as home to state-of-the-art learning spaces and faculty from across disciplines.
The building will be named in honor of longtime faculty member Dr. Edna Allen Bledsoe Dean. A member of the Social Work faculty for more than 30 years who retired in 2004, she was Longwood’s first Black tenured professor. This spring she received Longwood’s 2020 Honorary Alumni Award, and she has been an inspiration for generations of students, whom she helped guide through often turbulent times. Dr. Bledsoe Dean served as the ideal of a Longwood professor and of the kind of teaching and mentoring we hope will take place for generations to come in this building named in her honor.
The formal name of the building will be Dr. Edna Allen Bledsoe Dean Hall, to be referred to on campus as Allen Hall, in recognition and in honor of her broader family and their generations of strong connection to Farmville and Prince Edward County.
- Several hundred yards to the south from Allen Hall, the multi-year project to completely renovate the high-rises will also be complete by the end of this summer. The 10-story buildings with the finishing addition of their new 21 foot cupolas will be the tallest structures in Farmville’s history.
These completely and newly renovated structures will also be newly named to honor two figures from a pivotal era: Barbara Johns, whose heroism and leadership are now nationally renowned, and Gordon Moss, who as a Longwood faculty member and campus leader was stalwart in support of Civil Rights in Prince Edward County in the face of Massive Resistance in the 1950s and 1960s.
Barbara Rose Johns Powell’s bravery at the age of 16 and that of her fellow student strikers in 1951 led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, in which Prince Edward students were the majority of plaintiffs. But the legal struggle for desegregated public education in Prince Edward continued intensely until 1964, with county public schools closed entirely for five years beginning in 1959.
Dr. C. G. Gordon Moss served as a member of the faculty in History at Longwood from 1944 to 1969 and as Longwood’s Dean of the Faculty from 1960 to 1964. He spoke out against the closing of schools in Prince Edward and called strongly for their reopening. He ardently advocated for equality and justice during that turbulent period of local and national struggle --- when the Commonwealth of Virginia, Prince Edward County, and also Longwood itself did not.
The high-rise structures originally built on campus in 1969 and 1970 bore the names of Jabez Curry and Robert Frazer, two 19th-century figures with meaningful ties to the institution. Curry played a significant role in advocacy and development of public education in Virginia and throughout the South. During the Civil War he also served in the Confederate Congress. For several years beginning in the late 19th-century, Frazer served as president of the State Female Normal School, as Longwood was then known. In early adulthood during the Civil War, he was a Confederate soldier.
As the new versions of these buildings --- Johns Hall and Moss Hall --- fully open in the weeks ahead to a new generation of students, the time has come to turn the page of history. The tower farther along Main Street to the south and closer to the Moton Museum will be Johns Hall.
- I know events nationally and around Virginia have drawn attention to the numerous buildings statewide named for William Ruffner, the only other 19th-century figure for whom a Longwood structure was named in decades past. Ruffner, who had been a slave owner, helped found the system of public education in Virginia after the Civil War, but on a segregated basis. He also served as president of the State Female Normal School for several years in the 1880s.
Like with the high-rise buildings, I believe it is time also to turn the page on the name of Ruffner Hall. Longwood’s Rotunda was first built in the early twentieth century, enhancing prior structures, and was simply known as the Rotunda. Several decades after its construction, the Virginia state government rather than Longwood itself added Ruffner’s name to the building.
While we work on the steps necessary for an official renaming, the University will refer to the building complex again in its entirety (its East, West, and South portions) as the Rotunda, restoring the customary usage of the building’s early history. Signage will be changed to reflect that name.
Also, this past February Longwood launched the Bicentennial Initiative, co-chaired by Cainan Townsend ’15, Director of Education and Outreach at the Moton Museum, and Dr. John Miller, associate professor of English who teaches a course called “Conflict in Virginia’s Places and Past.” The Bicentennial Initiative will study building names on campus. It will work to tell more inclusive narratives of campus history, while also examining the legacy of figures such as Ruffner, Curry and Frazer.
Longwood’s campus and buildings are essential to our mission and spirit. We should be proud of them in every regard, and at this moment of refreshment and regeneration, I hope these steps will make that possible, as work on so many other fronts in this urgent time also continues.