The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library board of trustees confirmed at their June 27 meeting that they do not have the power to change the library’s name.
The localities served by the library, including Louisa, Greene, Albemarle, Nelson, and the City of Charlottesville, would have to all agree to the change, according to research conducted by library Director David Plunkett.
The Louisa and Greene County boards of supervisors both voted recently against changing the name.
In the past century, the library has had five name changes, the last in the early 1970s. Plunkett said the current name was chosen because a previous board member thought the name should reflect the friendship between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
“It wasn’t about what they did for the library or what they did for the Bill of Rights,” said Lisa Woolfork, who represents Charlottesville on the board.
“I am just trying to wrap my head around the idea that back in 1972, people were able to just get together and do whatever but here we are 50 years later and there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said.
While she looked at it from one side of the spectrum, Albemarle County Trustee Michael Powers tried to share an overall viewpoint.
During his research, Powers came across a document from a Yale University committee that explained the importance of identifying a figure’s “principal legacy.”
A principal legacy takes into consideration both what a person did to benefit society and what they did that could be viewed as a negative impact.
For example, Thomas Jefferson’s principal legacy is the fact that he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but was also a slave owner.
The first speaker during the public comment period was the president of University of Virginia’s Young Americans for Freedom, Nick Cabrera, who said the name change would erase United States history.
“I know that you all may not value the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution like I do, but just imagine a world in which there were not these documents,” Cabrera said. “Without Jefferson and Madison taking a leap of faith for a new vision of a new country, we would not be here today having this discussion.”
Myra Anderson, president of Reclaim Roots Descendents Alliance, first suggested the name change to the board. She is also a descendent of families enslaved at Monticello and of enslaved laborers at the University of Virginia.
“A library should be an inclusive space and not one that perpetuates oppression,” she said. “It is only appropriate that if the values have updated, that you look at the name that you have and make sure that those values align. One of your values says you want your libraries to feel comfortable, inviting, accessible spaces where we can work. How can you be inclusive if you have a name of a president who was not inclusive to Black people?”
The board plans to allow more public comments on the issue at their next meeting in July. Residents may attend in person or virtually to listen in or share their opinions at jmrl.org.