Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, says he supports a petition to rename the city of Lynchburg, Virginia, where the university is located.
In a recent statement, Falwell said the name has "been an embarrassment to Liberty University ever since we started."
He acknowledged the city is named after a Quaker leader named John Lynch, but said many people assume it has a darker meaning.
"So many people from Liberty have told me that when they travel and tell people where they're from, they're often asked, ‘Why in the world would you want to live in a racist place like that?'" Falwell said. "It's because people take ‘lynch' and they think it means there were lynchings here ... "
An online petition started by local resident Daisy Howard had garnered more than 5,500 signatures as of mid-July. The petition is aimed at Lynchburg City Council.
"The name of a city should not have such violent, racist, and horrifying connotations," Howard wrote. "I understand it was named after a man named John Lynch, but why do we insist on explaining that when people react to its name poorly (understandably so)? Why do we insist on defending it? We understand the power in the word. We need to erase the power that word holds over the connotation to our city."