By Staff Reports
A declaration by Gov. Ralph Northam gives local Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) officials hope and has candidates seeking the 9th District House of Delegates seat in agreement.
Northam declared June 29 was Patrick Henry Day to recognize the former governor’s contributions as a founding father.
“The fact that we are glorifying slave owners says a lot about where we are as a society in 2021,” said Bridgette Craighead, the Democrat on the November ballot.
“I feel like making a day for Patrick Henry is a slap in the face to a lot of people of color. Instead of glorifying slave owners, let’s glorify people that have taken steps to make America and Virginia more inclusive. Not divided apart,” she said.
Wren Williams, a Republican, also was critical of the declaration, but for different reasons.
Williams said the sentiment among Democrats was that Henry “should be stripped of all accolades and removed from” any form of “prestigious distinction. Is it (declaration) a make-up call? Who is it that this (declaration) is trying to appease? It certainly didn’t help” the Democratic majority “and it completely ticked off the right.”
The declaration may or may not have an impact on the name change at PHCC.
The local PHCC board was invited to submit recommendations for a name change after the Virginia State Board of Community Colleges in May rejected the local college board’s recommendation to add a hyphen between Patrick-Henry, denoting it was named for the counties it serves rather than a historical figure.
But Northam’s declaration may mean the local board submits another recommendation,
“The governor’s declaration came out” on Tuesday, Janet Copenhaver, chairman of the Patrick Henry Community College Board, said Wednesday. “I don’t know if the local board members have had time to absorb it.”
The local board doesn’t meet again until July 19, Copenhaver said, and added the board has not yet discussed the issue.
She added that PHCC “is named after the two counties, and we know it was named after the two counties and not a person. “We can only hope” the college will at least be able to retain the P and the H.
“It would be cheaper to transition,” she said.
Regardless of the name, “it doesn’t change who we are inside or what Patrick Henry stands for,” Copenhaver said. “One can only hope” it will carry some weight.
Williams, who also a member of the PHCC board, estimated rebranding the college would cost more than $1 million, and the state is “not even going to give us a dime to do it, but they’re going to come out a month later to celebrate him (Henry)?”
He said he would support a renewed effort to maintain PHCC’s current name.
Craighead said the state board is showing “that they are compassionate on how their black constituents feel. To name a college or university that everybody goes to after a slave owner makes it awkward for people of color. For me, having an institution named after a slave owner makes me not want to go there. Big kudos to those that wanted to change it and make everyone feel welcome.”
In the future, she said “I think everybody should do a little more research on how these institutions are named after and realize that the past still hurts. I know that people might not have liked the name change but think about how people feel going into the institution knowing the history behind it. It’s not fair for those people either.”
Williams marvels that no one thought to raise the issue before the declaration was made.
“Wouldn’t you think that someone might have mentioned, ‘hey, there’s some kind of controversy about renaming this community college,’” Williams said. “Is that how disjointed our government is that nobody thought to run this by” Northam.
“I think that (the proclamation) is really backwards,” Craighead said. “We are going the wrong way. I feel like whoever made that decision should have done a little bit more research before declaring a day after a slave owner.”
Williams said “the hypocrisy is so overwhelming. You can’t even point to it and ask him (Northam) to reconcile this. It’s impossible for him to do that, and that’s what’s so frustrating and that’s what people on the right are so tired of.”