J. M. L. Curry was known as an advocate for free public education of both blacks and whites in the post-Civil War South. He also opposed integrated schools, was a slaveholder, and served in the Provisional Congress and Army of the Confederate States of America.
The Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia voted today to remove his name from the university’s School of Education and Human Development. In making this change, the BOV was following the recommendation of the university’s Racial Equity Task Force. The task force called for the removal of all symbols honoring the Confederacy and referenced the university’s naming policy. That policy allows for the university to change honorific naming after twenty-five years and donor-associated naming after seventy-five. As a student at the university, I walked passed the Curry School countless times and had an anthropology class with Edith Turner in its auditorium.
Curry also served as president of Samford University (where I work) when it was known as Howard College and located in Marion, Alabama. The State of Alabama placed his statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. When the state replaced Curry with Helen Keller, his statue became a prominent presence in Samford’s University Center. Two years ago, it left campus with no fanfare and returned to the state archives. See this post for my reflections on the statue’s sojourn on campus.
Earlier this week, Samford Universtiy’s Task Force on Racial Justice announced that it had formed a Historical Accounts subcommittee that would “chronicle Samford’s interactions with racial justice through its history” and seek “to find events that the Samford community participated in that would provides insight to the current scenario and outlook.” Given that Samford’s current campus dates from 1957 and that most buildings and units are named for persons from that era or later, few, if any, are named for slaveholders or Confederate leaders. But the university was founded in slaveholding Alabama in 1841, pride’s itself on being the 87th oldest institution of higher education in the U.S. and acknowledges the important contribution of at least one enslaved man to its history. Slavery and segregation are an intrinsic part of its history and inclusion and equality a major current challenge. I look forward to reading the recommendations that the task force produces.
Updated: September 12, 2020.