Virginia Tech renames two residence halls after Black trailblazers

Lee, Barringer halls to be known as Hoge, Whitehurst halls

Two residence halls on Virginia Tech's campus have been renamed.

BLACKSBURG, Va. – On Thursday, Virginia Tech’s board of visitors unanimously voted to rename two of its residence halls.

Lee and Barringer halls are now Hoge and Whitehurst halls, respectively.

Janie and William Hoge were a local African American couple born to formerly enslaved parents. The couple hosted Irving L. Peddrew III when he arrived in Blacksburg in 1953, in addition to other Black men studying engineering who were denied on-campus housing due to their race.

“Their care and support of these students played an essential role in facilitating the beginnings of African American enrollment at Virginia Tech,” the university said in a statement. “The last of the original six to attend Virginia Tech, Matt Winston and Essex Finney, graduated the fall of 1959.”

The building was formerly named for Claudius Lee. The university says that the appropriateness of his name being used came into question in 1997 when students in a History of Virginia Tech class found a disturbing page in the 1896 student yearbook, The Bugle.

According to the university, “Lee, a graduating senior that year, presented himself as president — “father of terror” — of a group that called itself the ‘K.K.K.‘”

James Leslie Whitehurst Jr. was the first Black student permitted to live on campus in 1961, who went on to become a fighter pilot with the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam. He was also a major in the Air Force Reserve in Virginia and was a member of the Air National Guard.

Whitehurst was also the first Black person to serve on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, serving from 1970 to 1974. He also practiced as an attorney in Richmond until his retirement. He died in 2013.

Paul Barringer was president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute from 1907 to 1913, before resigning “after a tenure plagued with controversial and contentious leadership.”

According to the university, Barringer’s speeches and writings became popular throughout the South and touted his personal views as a white supremacist and highlighted his pro-slavery and anti-Black viewpoints.

“The previous names on these two residence halls - the temporary homes of many of our students of color in recent years - were inconsistent with the rich heritage and increasingly diverse community that is Virginia Tech,” said university president Tim Sands. “Because the Council sought input from existing groups, commissions, faculty, staff, students, and alumni within the university community, it helped us arrive, in a unified voice, at today’s decision.”

About the Author:

Samantha Smith joined WSLS 10’s award-winning digital team as a content producer in July 2018.