MIDDLETOWN — A new name is being sought for Lord Fairfax Community College because its namesake was an 18th-century slave owner.
“I’ve said many times that his name is just not good enough for us,” LFCC President Kim Blosser said in a video message to faculty and staff about the decision. “We are much better than what [his] name would show.”
The community college, which opened in 1970 in Middletown, is named for Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax. The name was chosen in 1969 by the college’s original board as a nod to the region’s colonial American history. It also was chosen because it added consistency, as a regional planning body had adopted the name Lord Fairfax Planning District Commission.
Many people refer to the college simply as Lord Fairfax or LFCC.
But on Feb. 4 the college’s board voted to change the name, LFCC announced in a news release. The vote was 9-3. This followed six months of study, focus group discussions and the results of a brand research study. The undertaking was prompted by a resolution passed last July by the State Board for Community Colleges asking all Virginia community college to review their names. The request coincided with institutions across the country revisiting names with racist ties in the wake of protests against systemic racism and police brutality following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer who was recorded kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.
The resolution stated “demonstrations are inspiring institutions in Virginia and beyond to examine, and in many cases exorcise, symbols of systemic racism that have existed in plain sight for years.”
On June 10, Shenandoah University in Winchester removed the name of former U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. from its business school over his opposition to public school desegregation in Virginia in the 1950s, an effort known as Massive Resistance.
Lord Fairfax was born in England in 1693 and later moved to America, where he owned more than 5 million acres that stretched from Virginia’s Northern Neck to what is now Pittsburgh. By the early 1740s, he had settled in White Post in Clarke County.
Despite being a friend and mentor to Founding Father George Washington, whom he hired as a young man to survey land, Lord Fairfax remained loyal to the British during the Revolutionary War. He died in 1781 and is buried at Christ Episcopal Church in Winchester. At the time of his death, Lord Fairfax owned at least 97 enslaved persons.
“We considered the overall college branding with an eye to the future,” Mike Wenger, vice chair of LFCC’s board, said in the release about the renaming decision. “The process invited deliberations about the values we want to inculcate, the focus we hope the college brand projects, and the breadth of community reach we want to facilitate. Though this decision wasn’t easy, it was in many ways clear.”
Although Lord Fairfax owned all of the property in the college’s service region at the time of his death, neither he nor his family members had any connection to the college when it was founded more than 50 years ago. No money or land connected to him was donated to establish LFCC.
In fact, nine out of 10 people surveyed by the college did not know who Lord Fairfax was. And a study conducted by the college indicated that, regardless of race or age, once people learned about his life they were more supportive of a name change.
“Lord Fairfax doesn’t represent anything we are about,” Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, who represents Shenandoah County on the college’s board, said in the release. “Our students come to us from different backgrounds, but they value the opportunity presented by earning an education at LFCC.”
He added: “The college embraces inclusion, opportunity, equality, access to education, and helping students find their way forward. Our faculty is devoted to that. We want people to feel welcome where they serve and live, and if we exclude some part of our faculty and some part of our students, that’s not who we are, whether that exclusion is intentional or unintentional. I think for our students, for our faculty and for our future, it’s the right time to take this opportunity to rename the college and move forward, capturing all we have accomplished in the past and the bright future we have ahead.”
LFCC will spend the coming months searching for a new name thatwill serve as a welcoming beacon to all students and will give students and faculty pride, the release stated. The goal is for a task force made up of LFCC stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and board members, to have a name for the board to consider by this summer.
The name change will have no impact on degrees and certificates earned at the college. The former name will be printed in parentheses on new transcripts.
LFCC is part of the Virginia Community College System. In addition to its Middletown campus, LFCC has locations in Fauquier County, Luray-Page County and Vint Hill.