Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond has approved a new name for the building housing the department of African American studies on campus. The building will now be known as Gabriel’s House, named for the enslaved man in Richmond who, in 1800, organized an unsuccessful but historically significant slave revolt.
The building was formerly known as Harrison House. it honored Lieutenant William Harrison, an engineer for the Confederate Army who developed defensive positions for the army in Henrico County during the Civil War.
The name Gabriel’s House was chosen in honor of Gabriel Prossor’s work to organize enslaved people across 11 Virginia counties that sought to emancipate enslaved people in Virginia and beyond. Gabriel’s plans were thwarted at the last moment, however, and he and 25 other enslaved men were hanged. In 2007, then-Gov. Tim Kaine pardoned Gabriel.
“Our department has always been cognizant of the historical importance of self-naming for Black people in this country and in this spirit of self-definition and self-determination — we began a process to select a name that reflected the spirit of the department and the pedagogical mission of our discipline,” according to a document the department submitted to the board in support of the new name.