Confederate surgeon’s name removed from Virginia VA hospital amid stripping of racist history from military facilities
Stars and Stripes January 20, 2023
WASHINGTON — For decades, the first Department of Veterans Affairs hospital to perform a heart transplant was named for a Confederate Army surgeon who believed in the superiority of the white race.
Hunter Holmes McGuire treated Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson during the Civil War and defended slavery as the knitting of the hearts of two races “in the happy life on the old plantation.”
Last week, the veterans hospital in Richmond, Va., that bore the McGuire name banished it to history.
The move followed years of lobbying for the hospital’s name change by veterans, community members, McGuire’s descendants and the late Rep. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from Virginia who died in November. VA Secretary Denis McDonough made the decision to rename the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center to the Richmond VA Medical Center, scrubbing the last Confederate name tied to a major VA facility.
“The VA will continue to serve all veterans with dignity and respect at this facility and every facility,” McDonough said in a statement.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., praised the renaming on Twitter on Thursday.
“Naming decisions should honor the patriotism of our veterans,” he wrote. “Looking forward to continuing to push for improvements to veterans’ health care.”
VA facilities can only be named in honor of individuals by congressional mandate, according to the Congressional Research Service. The VA has the authority to change a building name to match its location, however.
After pioneering heart transplant surgery in the 1970s, the Richmond VA Medical Center has remained a leader in cardiac treatment in the VA health system. It is the flagship facility of the Central VA Health Care System and serves more than 70,000 former service members.
Richmond residents had long questioned why McGuire’s name was allowed to be associated with the hospital for so many years, according to multiple news reports about the hospital. The facility admitted its first veteran patient in 1944.
“Why do our African-American veterans, who have fought and sacrificed for the United States, need to enter the Veterans Administration hospital through a gateway that honors a racist officer of the Confederate Army?” wrote resident Charles Pool in a 2020 letter to the Richmond Free Press newspaper.
McGuire died in 1900 and remained an advocate for slavery his entire life. He was lauded for developing conventions during the Civil War that treated medical personnel as non-combatants and eventually integrating those protocols into the Geneva Conventions, according to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
Racial justice protests that swept the country in 2020 drew fresh scrutiny to McGuire’s Confederate past and racist views. Virginia Commonwealth University, which has roots in a medical school McGuire founded, removed a bust of McGuire as well as plaques and signs honoring him later that year.
The VA secretary at the time said the department would not rename the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center or other facilities named for Confederate officers or segregationists because then-President Donald Trump opposed efforts to remove symbols of the Confederacy.
Congress overrode Trump’s objections and created a commission to review links between the Confederacy and all U.S. military facilities in 2021. The group found more than 1,100 assets that honored Confederate officers, soldiers and sailors. The Pentagon ordered the renaming or removal of Confederate-associated items and installations earlier this month, including nine Army posts in the south.