None of us knew Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, whose statue in Richmond has been ordered to come down by the governor over the Confederacy’s support of slavery. We can only read about Lee in history books.

But if you’re of a certain age in Winchester, you might have known the late U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., who was born here and died here in 2013 at age 98. When Byrd was a young state senator, he helped craft Virginia’s “massive resistance” policy against desegregating the commonwealth’s public schools.

Massive resistance resulted in some schools closing for a period of time rather than integrating. The policy was horribly wrong and racist and part of an unbearably painful part of Virginia history. Later in life, Byrd admitted as much.

So the decision on Wednesday by Shenandoah University’s Board of Trustees to remove Byrd’s name from its School of Business should come as no surprise. Even Byrd would likely say as much. He was reluctant about it from the start.

Prior to the university’s board naming the business school for Byrd in 1984, he talked with university officials about his years in elected office, including his support of massive resistance. Given that history, a school building was not a good vehicle to carry Byrd’s name or the burden of his legacy. But there’s also Harry F. Byrd Jr., the newspaper publisher, neighbor on Tennyson Avenue who gave out full-size candy bars to trick-or-treaters at Halloween, and ardent community supporter of events such as the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.

Those in his hometown who knew him will remember him as unfailingly courteous and exceedingly generous. He was a wealthy man who shared the fruits of his success with others, including the university, to which he made untold significant contributions.

Upon his death, he left employees of Byrd Newspapers with more than 10 years of service $10,000 each for his appreciation of the work they do.

Perhaps most telling in his generosity were the scholarships he established. A statewide program he created 26 years ago continues to award a graduating high school senior from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts a scholarship based on an application and interview process with a committee. The current amount awarded per student is $15,000.

From 1954 to 2018, while the Byrd family was still in the newspaper business, The Winchester Star’s Star Leadership Award, which Byrd started, gave approximately $900,000 in scholarships to area high school seniors to use as they saw fit.

Maybe the scholarships Byrd set up and the importance he placed on education and helping young people were his way of righting a past wrong, but he’s not here to ask.

In the big picture, the university’s decision stands to reason, given the social unrest that has swept the nation in recent weeks over the death of a black man named George Floyd, who was killed while being restrained by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.

Calls for racial justice and for America to stop glorifying its racist past are long overdue in some corners of the country. Shenandoah is a private institution that must do what it thinks is best for itself.

As a community, however, while we must not forget Byrd’s failings as a politician, lest history repeat itself, we should also remember the good he did here, much of which we will never know.

(19) comments

Dadof3

The irony of Dr. Fitzsimmons sitting on the selection committee for the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. Leadership award is not lost on me ( byrdleadershipaward.org ).

As a long-time citizen of this region, I recognize the vital importance Shenandoah University plays in our community culture and economy. What hurts is the callous way in which they disposed of the Byrd name from their institution. In their announcement of the removal of the name Harry F. Byrd, Jr. from their business school, they failed to recognize and thank both the Senator himself, but more importantly, the entire Byrd FAMILY for their dedication and generosity to the University and the community. In my view, they have mishandled the removal of the Byrd name terribly.

I read in an article in Saturday, June 6th edition that SU also is dealing with a “disturbing” social media post. A cursory search of Facebook indicates that SU has also mishandled this issue.

My point in sharing this is to ask the question where is the leadership and management at SU? Do they have a public relations/crisis manager on their staff? Did they hire an outside one? Twice now within a couple of weeks, they have mishandled two separate hot button issues. One issue can have devastating effects on the cohesiveness of the student body, the other alienating long-time supporters and donors within the community.

As an outsider looking in, I can only speculate what the answers to some tough questions might be based upon the evidence in public domain. However, the Board of Trustees can get real answers to tough questions. Make no mistake, the Board needs to ask some tough questions of leadership. They need to dive deeply and evaluate the upper leadership of Shenandoah for the mishandling of these recent issues. The Board needs to hold leadership accountable. Our community and Shenandoah need a reconciliation. We each need the other to prosper.

chris fordney

I would like to see the Star produce something like a public speech, direct quote, or op-ed in which Byrd admitted in his own words that his segregationist views were wrong. At this point all we have heard only from second- and third-hand apologists. Until then I will remain skeptical.

Conservative

A quick search points to several references to a 1982 interview with the Washington Post, where he said he "personally hated" to see schools close, but defended Virginia's "massive resistance" to federal desegregation orders, claiming it helped the state avert racial violence.

"It is one thing to sit here in 1982 and say what was done in 1954 was a mistake," he said in a 1982 Washington Post interview. "It may or may not have been, because you have to look at it in the context of the times. When you have to make a very dramatic change, sometimes, most times, that needs to be done maybe over a period of time and not abruptly."

MDM

Yesterday's Winchester Star article regarding this topic reported that former Business School Dean Miles Davis, who is black, visited Byrd, who told Davis he was thrilled that SU had hired a dean of color for the school. Byrd also told Davis that he was sorry and wrong for his support of massive resistance.

MDM

My problem with the actions by SU is not so much the removal of his name but rather the desire to disassociate with the man but not his money. As an institution of higher learning, SU had the opportunity to use Mr. Byrd's change of heart as a learning tool, to show that a change of heart is possible and that it can change lives as his funds did for many students. I am also disheartened by the way SU threw a community friend under the bus, so quickly, in response to current events. As a SU grad, I feel sucker-punched by this about-face action by the University. It is now up to those who are on their side regarding this action to provide the donations this school will most likely need moving forward.

Dadof3

I agree it truly was a lost learning opportunity. In the July 29, 2013 article in the Winchester Star titled "Reactions to the life of Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr.", Dr. Fitzsimmons is quoted as saying: “For generations to come, there will be students at Shenandoah University who will know his name and the great things he did because our business school carries his name and we talk about him.” It appears that never happened.

It is another thing the Board of Trustees should evaluate.

Conservative

So, Senator Byrd himself was not keen on the idea of naming the school after him, knowing his history, but the school insisted. Interesting. So, should SU just close it's doors since they pushed the idea in the first place? I'm not saying they should, but with their actions now, it's not something I would cry over if they do close up, and I am an alumnus.

DavidSparkman

This is much more about Democrats trying to erase their own sins of the past. Every person carries some regret for actions of lack of actions in the past. Regret can modify behavior and make someone a better person. But Leftists have to denounce so much of their past that they can never do enough to repudiate their past love of superiority over others. Unfortunately, they haven't changed. There is still no regret for the poverty they have caused, for the failing schools they protect, for the families they have destroyed. Their only regret is that they are loosing the black vote and are now pounding their chest and denouncing their past to try to hold on to power. But when they had power, they took away school choice from bright kids trying to better themselves, today they pull policing and fire protection back from poor neighborhoods so that rioters can burn down what little economic success those neighborhoods had. No, in spite of their words, the left slyly sees to the destruction of the poor, and denies the poor the opportunity to better themselves. Poor people, you can succeed, not from handouts but from opportunity. Leave the democrat plantation and work for a brighter future with your fellow Americans.

Jim McCarthy

Ah, yes, the "what have you got to lose" argument to embrace the radical right. Indeed, Dems have much to pay for. However, folks like Byrd were DINOs, Democrats in Name Only. The effects of massive resistance remain today. The inanity of the declaration that Dems "took away school choice," "pull policing and fire protection back from poor neighborhoods so rioters can burn down" those neighborhoods is pathetic and patently not true. Sad that ideology causes such blindness.

Spock Here

Sparky, I do believe, fancies himself as The Great White Leader" to those "coloreds".

Bryan.the.Nuri

Poor Sparky...

GreatScott

Well said. The left seeks power rather than solutions. They have proven they care little about actually helping people. The left has been the ones in charge in most urban areas for years. So, if there are systemic problems, then look to the Democrats who have been in power and made things worse. They are the "system".

Spock Here

We can only read about Lee in history books. That's where he belongs. Nothing much is learned from a statue. A statue Lee didn't want, nor do his ancestors. Let history be read about, and learned in museums. Lee is not your heritage. The United States is.

slowe

well said. Thank you.

jps320161

Can all of you morally superior individuals state with absolute conviction that had you been around in the 18th, 19th, or even most of the last centuries, that you would not have had anything to do with slavery, or fought with a slaveowner general even for an independent nation, or approved slavery being written into the U.S. Constitution, or agreed with Lincoln's belief in white superiority, as did your ancestors? Of course nobody would have fought with Lee either. When I was a kid segregation was law and I hardly noticed it. Ashamed of it now.

Spock Here

I think the only people I'm morally superior to are murderers, rapists, and child molestors but to answer your question, assuming our location was around here, yes, my family would have owned slaves, and assuming that was what I was born into, I would have known nothing different and would have fought for it. But we are now in a different age, and a significant number of people's thinking has evolved...grown. We are no longer in the 18th, 19th, or 20th century. We should not be thinking like we are. We are allowed to reject some things after all.

jps320161

Nobody today condones slavery. we have evolved. Quite frankly in those years practically every white person would be considered a white supremacist today, even if they didn't think of it that way. While northern abolitionists said free those slaves, they also maintained "don't send them here!" In the mid 1800s free blacks were banned from even residing in some northern states. Lee and the men who followed him fought an invasion. Lincoln's "ultimate solution" was to "colonize" all blacks, whom he also considered inferior, out of the country. Apparently he backed off from that when he met with Frederick Douglass, who I'm sure got in his face about who had a fight to live where. By the way, the largest monument in the world to an individual is the yet unfinished sculpture of Crazy Horse, who resisted an invasion of his homeland and briefly inflicted the most one-sided defeat of U.S. forces in history.

Spock Here

Nobody condones slavery, is a bizarre "victory" in the 21st century, but correct, as is everything else you note. There does, however, seem to be a segment of society that still believes to some extent in "separate but equal" so there is still some "evolving" to be done, from not "condoning" slavery to "get that knee off their necks"

jps320161

Very logical, Spock

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