Chris Pendleton · June 11, 2020
Effective immediately, the main academic building on the campus of Southern Virginia University will no longer be known as Durham Hall.
For much of the last century, the hilltop site and several of the buildings of what is now the campus of Southern Virginia University were home to Southern Seminary, a private all-women’s school.1 In 1996, a new Board of Directors took responsibility for the campus and its existing buildings to effect a transition to what is now Southern Virginia University.2
The building in question was built and named Durham Hall while the school was a for-profit enterprise co-owned by Robert Lee Durham, who was President of Southern Seminary from 1919-1942.3 While Mr. Durham is credited with many contributions to the school and surrounding area,4 it was last week brought to our attention that Mr. Durham was an advocate of white supremacy. After investigation, it became clear this was true. We regret, and deeply apologize, for not being aware of the full history behind the name of this building before now. We are in the process of conducting a full review of the other named buildings that existed prior to 1996, and the history, names, communications and culture of our campus and our school.
Mr. Durham’s advocacy of white supremacy was explicit, public, proactive, and existed in at least four specific forms (additional details can be found in the corresponding footnotes):
Symbols of racism and advocacy of white supremacy have no place on our campus. Public advocacy and political activism in the service of such positions are wholly incompatible and in complete opposition to the values and mission of Southern Virginia University. As President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently wrote, “It behooves each of us to do whatever we can in our spheres of influence to preserve the dignity and respect every son and daughter of God deserves.”9
Accordingly, the name has been removed from the building and the University website, and will no longer be used in any University materials or publications. A new and appropriate name, better aligned with the spirit and mission of our school, will be selected and approved by the Board of Trustees before the next academic term. In the interim, the building will be referred to as the Academic Center.
1 See Preparing Leader Servants: A Portrait of Southern Virginia University (2006), pp. 12-15.
2 Preparing Leader Servants, p. 19.
3 Preparing Leader Servants, p. 15.
4 See Dictionary of Virginia Biography, “Robert Lee Durham,” at https://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.php?b=Durham_Robert_Lee.
5 Mr. Durham published The Call of the South in 1908. The novel’s advocacy of African American racial inferiority and defense of “racial purity” was “inflammatory” even to many of his contemporaries. (See Dictionary of Virginia Biography, “Robert Lee Durham.”)
6 Mr. Durham later described his book as “addressing and solving the ‘negro question’” and actively promoted the book and its ideologies, including sending copies to Congressional representatives. (See William Allen Hunt, “A lifetime of change: Robert Lee Durham and the New South” (2011), pp. 78, 31. Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 10352. At https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/etd/10352.)
7 When recruited to serve as a U.S. Commissioner in North Carolina during the election of 1900, Mr. Durham actively worked to prevent African Americans from voting as part of a larger organized political effort. (See Hunt, “A lifetime of change,” pp. 20-21.)
8 In his autobiography, Mr. Durham still characterized the Confederate cause as the “fight” of his “States-Rights fathers and grandfathers” against “the extension of human liberty to the negro.” (Robert Lee Durham, Since I Was Born. Edited by Marshall William Fishwick. Richmond, Virginia: Whittet and Shepperson, 1953., p. 113. Cited at Hunt, p. 84) Mr. Durham retained his racial views throughout his life, even against the urging of members of his own family, who tried to persuade him to change. (See Hunt, “A lifetime of change,” pp. 8, 77, 84.)
9 “President Nelson Shares Social Post about Racism and Calls for Respect for Human Dignity.” News Release from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (June 1, 2020). At https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/president-nelson-shares-social-postencouraging-understanding-and-civility?cid=email-IN_LoveBelonging_060520_RMNSocial.