Addressing a racial history

Blacksburg, Va., May 1 – Fraction House: The newly named structure stands near Solitude and the Duck Pond. It is part of the land purchased from Colonel Robert Preston to establish Virginia Mechanical and Agricultural College in 1872. Photo: Lizzy Street

by Lizzy Street & Mike Liu–

In early April, Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors voted to rename the former slave cabin next to Solitude. It is now called the Fraction House in honor of a family who was enslaved at Solitude Plantation. Despite the renaming, members of the Virginia Tech community find that Tech’s addressing of its racial history is inadequate.

Virginia Tech historian Peter Wallenstein says that this honoring, which includes a plaque on the building, is overly brief.

“You want a more extended narrative,” said Wallenstein. “There’s really not much there about the house or the people whose name it now carries.”

Some students expressed disappointment that the event was not more widely publicized.

“It’s kind of troubling that something like this has been pushed to the side as far as educating our students about it,” said Virginia Tech student Tyler Frazier. “I feel like Virginia Tech as a school – if they’re taking steps to acknowledge the history . . . they should tell us about it.”

When asked how well Virginia Tech notifies its students of the school’s racial history and plans for making amends, Wallenstein questioned, “Does it?”

In the weeks before and after the renaming, Virginia Tech social media accounts posted about drones, athletics and the otter at the Duck Pond. Information about the Fraction House has not been posted anywhere easily found by students. The Fraction House is not included in the list of buildings at Virginia Tech, and it is not referenced in the page for Solitude.

Frazier says that he would like to see Solitude torn down because it would show “true commitment” to standing against Virginia Tech’s past.

The racial history does not include only the school’s relationship with plantation land; according to Virginia Tech’s Special Collections, a black man named Floyd Meade and his trained turkey acted as the school’s first mascot. Wallenstein says this was likely racially exploitative at the time.

Although the onus is often placed on Tech’s administration, students can play an important role in advocating for change.

“Develop a campaign . . . and suddenly it gets attention,” said Wallenstein. “That’s the way things happen.”

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