In recent years, college campuses across the United States have been compelled to confront the question, “What’s in a name?” As the Chronicle of Higher Education summarized, “And what is a university’s responsibility when the name on a statue, building, or program on campus is a painful reminder of hard to a specific racial group?” Joining a national conversation surrounding the meaning of the names of streets, spaces, and structures, the University of Richmond considers a response to calls to rename Ryland and Freeman Halls on campus.
Over the course of the semester, students will engage the debates surrounding building renamings by focusing on a particular case study on the University of Richmond campus: Freeman Hall. Named after Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Robert E. Lee, Douglas Southall Freeman was a journalist and editor of the Richmond News Leader. A man known to have saluted the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue each day as he passed en route to his office, Freeman is a mythical figure whose name not only commemorates a dorm on UR’s campus but local schools across the region.
Engaging with a range of primary source documents and contributing to the growing inquiry into Freeman’s life, students will analyze Freeman’s editorials as well as writings about Freeman to better understand and contextualize a man who was both actively constructing his own myth as well as being defined by popular media. In this way, the course aims to explore the many Douglas Southall Freemans in public circulation, reading them within the context of the Lost Cause in popular and public culture.
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