A liberal arts university in Virginia is under fire for deciding to change the name of its law school after its namesake was discovered to be a slave owner.
One descendant of the man the school used to be named after, Robert Smith, wants the institution to pay back the billions of dollars the family has donated since his demise in the 1800s, calling the school’s leadership “shameful” and asserting in writing the institution buckled under the nation’s current climate of wokeness.
Smith’s ancestor is T.C. Williams.
Williams, a 19th-century businessman who owned tobacco companies, a graduate, and was once a trustee of the University of Richmond, was a huge benefactor of his alma mater. He also owned human beings, according to reports.
Upon his death, his family earmarked a significant contribution of $25,000 to the law school at the university in 1890, the equivalent of $821,895.60 in the 2023 economy. Since then, many in the family have continued the tradition of paying into the law school’s endowment.
Officials decided in recognition of the gift to rename the program to T.C. Williams School of Law in 1920.
However, after Census and local government records revealed Williams owned enslaved Africans, the school changed its name again.
According to the Washington Post, Williams’ businesses were taxed for owning 25 to 40 enslaved people and he, personally, was taxed for owning three.
In September 2022, the university’s board voted unanimously to change the name to the University of Richmond School of Law. Previously, in March 2021, the institution, as a result of its Race and Racism project, adopted a policy that prohibits the school from naming any building on campus, statute, library, program, professorship, or entity “for a person who directly engaged in the trafficking and/or enslavement of others or openly advocated for the enslavement of people.”
The Race and Racism project cataloged the school’s connection to ethnic and race-based discrimination, including highlighting the school’s ties to slavery and segregation. Two other fixtures removed from the campus were Rev. Robert Ryland, the school’s founding president who enslaved people, and Douglas Southall Freeman, a university trustee who opposed interracial marriage and championed segregation.
A body formed of more than 7,500 students, staffers, faculty members, alumni and parents, called the Naming Principles Commission developed and recommended: “principles to guide future decisions about naming and removal or modification of names for buildings, professorships, programs, and other named entities at Richmond.”
Smith, a Richmond attorney and great-great-grandson of T.C. Williams, has taken exception to the policy and name change. He claims his family, specifically the immediate descendants of Williams, have been incredibly generous with the university — a fact ignored by officials catering to “woke activists.”
The name could have been modified, Smith argues, to honor T.C. Williams Jr., who did not own enslaved people (despite inheriting the wealth of his enslaver father).
In a five-page letter to University of Richmond President Kevin Hallock, obtained by Atlanta Black Star, Smith details how he believes the school and the president are unfamiliar with the concept of “gratitude,” one of the most basic tenets of Judeo-Christian heritage. According to Smith, “the university needs to be exposed for its lack of GRATITUDE and infantile, woke reasoning.”
As the attorney blasts the school’s “decision” to “dename” the T.C. Williams Law School, he calls the choice “shameful,” adding even the term of use is “a new word in the English lexicon closely associated with lack of appreciation and ignorance.”
Smith laid out for Hallock, his family’s deep history in the South, stating that one ancestor Jesse Williams, born in 1796, “developed much of early Richmond, built many houses and owned a construction materials firm which primarily manufactured and sold brick and masonry products.”
Weaving a narrative of a deeply religious people, Smith described how his ancestor even helped build the First Baptist and First African Baptist Churches, while acquiring wealth in the antebellum South and supporting the efforts of the Confederacy.
While he detailed the generosity of his family, he failed to mention the amount of bonded or chatteled persons they claimed as property that contributed to their enormous wealth.
“The university’s endowment is $3.3 billion. Since you and your activists went out of your way to discredit the Williams name, and since presumably the Williams family’s money is tainted, demonstrate your ‘virtue’ and give it all back,” Smith resolved.
Adding, “I suggest you immediately turn over the entire $3.3 billion endowment to the current descendants of T.C. Williams, Sr. We will use it all to fulfill the charitable purposes to which it was intended. We will take a note back for the remaining $300 million, providing that it is secured by all the campus buildings and all your woke faculty pledge their personal assets and guarantee the note.”
In a statement, released on Friday, Feb. 10, Smith quipped, “The University of Richmond would not exist but for the benevolence of the Williams family.”
Hallock, nor any spokesperson for the University of Richmond, has responded publicly about the demand. The president did write in correspondence to the university’s community and stakeholders, once the letter was published on the internet, “We recognize that some may be disappointed or disagree with this decision. We also recognize the role the Williams family has played here and respect the full and complete history of the institution.”
No legal action has been taken against the school to force them to pay the family back their money.