Washington and Lee University announced Tuesday it will name a new academic center for teaching and research on race after one of its late, influential history professors, Ted DeLaney.
DeLaney, who died in December at age 77, had a nearly 60-year career at Washington and Lee University, joining the institution as a custodian, eventually earning enough credits to graduate at 41, and then returning a decade later to be a history professor and serve as the school’s first Black department head. He was at the front of a push for the university to reckon with the university’s ties to the Confederacy, especially Gen. Robert E. Lee, after which the school is named.
The university announced the creation of the center for the study of Southern race relations, culture and politics last month when the W&L Board of Trustees voted to keep Lee in the school’s name. Part of earnings on $40 million of the school’s endowment over the next five years will support the new academic center, the university previously announced.
The new center will improve recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority faculty at the school, according to the university. In the wake of the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, the university created a commission to consider its troubled history with the Confederacy and make recommendations, and the panel noted the university has struggled to recruit students and faculty of color. DeLaney served on the commission.
Delaney was born in Lexington in 1943. He planned to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta, but his mother didn’t want to him to go there because of safety concerns with the city’s ongoing civil rights movement. He worked at Washington and Lee as a custodian, took classes and graduated in 1985, and then pursued a doctorate at the College of William and Mary University. When he returned to Washington and Lee University, he pressured the school to think about its legacy, getting the school to add courses on slavery and civil rights.
To his family, Ted DeLaney Jr. was proof that a strong work ethic paired with an embrace for…
“Ted was known to people across the W&L community as a wise, thoughtful, and generous teacher whose passion for justice and inclusion was evident both in the classroom and in his scholarship,” Washington and Lee President William Dudley said in a statement. “Ted’s work provided keen insights into the history of the university and the local community. His personal history and the example that he set for all of us represent the best of the university’s core values. The center that bears Ted’s name will be a model for the work that was so important to him and remains so critical to the understanding and advancement of our society in the future.”
DeLaney taught courses on colonial North America, comparative slavery in the Western Hemisphere, African American history, civil rights, and gay and lesbian history. He co-founded the Africana Studies Program in 2005, and he chaired the history department from 2007 to 2013.
The university is in the middle of making other changes, including redesigning the diploma that is stamped with portraits of Lee and George Washington, renovating Lee Chapel and renaming it to University Chapel, and improving funding to support its effort to not consider an applicant’s ability to pay for their education when making admission decisions.