Marshall Board of Governors Votes To Remove Name Of Slaveholder, Confederate Soldier From Building
Updated Tuesday, July 7, 2020 at 2:45 p.m.
The Marshall University Board of Governors voted unanimously Tuesday to remove the name of a slaveholder and Confederate soldier from the building that houses the university’s education program. The name change comes as other markers and monuments honoring the Confederacy have been removed by choice or by force across the nation.
According to a news release, the board said the vote to remove the name of Albert Gallatin Jenkins came upon a recommendation from university President Jerome Gilbert. The building, which sits on Marshall’s main campus in Huntington, had been known as Jenkins Hall.
Jenkins was born in 1830 in what is now Cabell County, West Virginia. He served in the U.S. Congress before resigning in 1861 during the outbreak of the Civil War. Later, he served in the First Confederate States Congress.
The decision to change the name is a reversal of course for the board at the state’s second-largest university. In February 2019, the board decided to keep Jenkins’ name on the building.
At the time of that 2019 vote, the board issued a statement saying “Marshall University will constantly confront and challenge bigotry, intolerance and unwarranted discrimination in all of their manifestations.”
On Tuesday, the board indicated they wanted to properly contextualize Jenkins’ place in history while searching for another name that was not marred by a racist past.
“Our board reaffirmed that commitment today by voting, not to erase history, but simply to no longer honor a man whose accomplishments do not provide the university with enduring value,” the board said in a statement.
The board said it has also carefully considered the name of every other building on campus and has concluded the removal of Jenkins’ name is “the final step” in an effort to represent the “ideals of equality and justice embodied by Chief Justice John Marshall.”
According to many historians, Marshall himself was opposed to slavery and thought it was "evil." However, the Supreme Court Justice did own many slaves.
Cicero Fain, a professor of history at the College of Southern Maryland, a Huntington native and the author of Black Huntington: An Appalachian Story, was elated upon learning of the news at Marshall.
“It’s so gratifying as a scholar to kind of have my book as a backdrop. I don't know how much it was a part of this process,” said Fain, who attended Marshall and later taught history there. “But I'm certainly gratified that my book is part of, I think, a recognition that Black Huntingtonians and Black Appalachians matter.”
Fain’s book details the contributions of Black people in the city, how they solidified a unique cultural identity and pushed for progress in the face of the white status quo. As a Black Huntingtonian himself, he said he always felt as though Jenkins’ name on the building overshadowed the accomplishments of those he has researched.
“I've always had this kind of conflicted response and perception of my time there. It was always somewhat impacted by this kind of retrograde attitude that I sense kind of permeated the culture there — and of course, the city and the state,” Fain said. “And so, I'm more than gratified that finally the events of the last couple of months have resulted in folks of conscience making the necessary change to be more inclusive for all folks.”
Fain said he hopes the name change attracts those who have left the area back to Marshall, Huntington and West Virginia.
The name change comes just one day after the Kanawha County Board of Education voted unanimously to change the name of a school on Charleston’s West Side that honors a Confederate General. After hearing from students and members of the community, the school board voted 5-0 Monday to change the name of Stonewall Jackson Middle School.
Last week, the city of Charleston quietly removed a Confederate monument honoring the Kanawha Riflemen.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 20 statues, monuments, markers or other structures honoring the Confederacy can be found across the state of West Virginia.