VCU renames African American Studies department building for 18th Century enslaved man | Education

Harrison House, the building that contains Virginia Commonwealth University’s department of African American Studies, has been renamed for an enslaved man from Richmond.

The university’s board of visitors on Monday unanimously approved a motion to rename the building Gabriel’s House, the latest move by VCU to ensure building names reflect current sentiments of the university community.

The new name recognizes Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved man born in 1776 who planned an uprising that became known as Gabriel’s Rebellion.

Last year, VCU decommemorated Harrison House, noting the name had no connection to the African American Studies department.

A three-story white brick structure at 816 W. Franklin St., Harrison House was named for Fort Harrison, a line of Confederate defenses in eastern Henrico during the Civil War. Fort Harrison was named after Lieutenant William Harrison, a Confederate engineer.

The department of African American Studies gathered name suggestions from student and employee groups throughout the past year, and Gabriel’s House emerged as a favorite.

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When word of Prosser’s planned rebellion leaked, Prosser and 25 followers were hanged in 1800. In 2007, then-Gov. Tim Kaine pardoned Prosser, and last year his name was engraved on the Emancipation and Freedom Monument on Brown’s Island.

In recent years, VCU and several other colleges in Virginia have rid themselves of building names and iconography honoring people with ties to the Confederacy or segregation.

VCU changed the name of a building named for Lewis Ginter, who was a major in the Confederate army. It removed the words “Dooley Hospital” from a threshold that still exists where a hospital for James Dooley once stood. Dooley was also a Confederate soldier. It changed other names and other pieces of iconography referencing the Confederacy.

Keith Parker, a member of the board of visitors, said Monday the renaming of Gabriel’s House will help give students a better connection to campus and the names of VCU’s buildings. He often wondered why Harrison House got its name, because it seemed to have no connection to the department or VCU.

VCU aims to “foster a commemorative landscape that reflects the university’s core values ​​of achievement,” according to the resolution the board passed.

Ben Dendy, head of the board, said he was glad the new name honors a person instead of a vague, nondescript name. In September, VCU also renamed the Fine Arts Building for Murry DePillars, a former dean of the School of Arts.

“This is another important step in that regard,” Dendy said. “It always bothers me when they take names off places and give them a generic name.”

ekolenich@timesdispatch.com

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Twitter: @EricKolenich

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