JMU celebrates grand opening of Paul Jennings Hall

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — After being open since the start of the fall semester, on Friday, JMU celebrated the grand opening of their newest residence hall, Paul Jennings Hall.

Raleigh Marshall, JMU Alumni and descendant of Paul Jennings, speaking to those in attendance about the process it took to name the hall after Jennings.

Paul Jennings was an enslaved African American who served James Madison's family during his presidency.

After Madison’s death, Jennings would go on to earn his freedom, work in the Pension Office, raise a family and purchase a home in Washington. At the age of 75, Jennings passed away in 1874.

A call to students, faculty, and staff was issued for the naming of this building and several members of the JMU community recommended Paul Jennings Hall. That name was approved at a Board of Visitors meeting earlier this year.

JMU worked with members of the Jennings family and Montpelier (James Madison's historic home in central Virginia) to develop a display within the residence hall honoring and teaching the legacy of Paul Jennings for generations of students to come.

Margaret Jordan, Paul Jennings' great-great-great granddaughter, was in attendance at Friday's ceremony and said she think Jennings would feel honored to have his name on a campus of higher learning.

"I was just so incredibly honored for our family when I learned that it was going to be done," Jordan said. " When I really heard about it I thought oh my god what a wonderful honor for him and for our family."

The new residence hall is home to 500 JMU students with a learning commons, great room and grab and go dining option. The great room will serve as the central community room with space for more than 200 people.