HANOVER, Va. (WWBT) - School leaders in Hanover County are set to discuss renaming Stonewall Jackson Middle School and Lee-Davis High School as well as their mascots at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
Last week, Governor Ralph Northam sent a letter to school boards in the state urging them to change the names of schools with Confederate ties.
“When those names reflect our broken and racist past, they also perpetuate the hurt inextricably woven into this past,” Northam wrote in a letter. “When our public schools are named after individuals who advanced slavery and systemic racism, and we allow those names to remain on school property, we tacitly endorse their values as our own.”
The renaming request for the two schools is a familiar one in Hanover County.
For years several groups have attempted to change the name, however they’ve stayed put.
“I’m a proud resident of Hanover County; always have been,” said John Gordon, a former school board member and board supervisor. “But I’m not proud of those two names for two of Hanover’s schools. As a matter of fact, I’m offended.”
Gordon is one of seven former Hanover County School Board members who joined together to send a letter to the current school board requesting name changes.
“After careful consideration of our enduring commitment to Hanover’s quality education and its future, together, we request without reservation, that the Hanover County School Board move immediately to change the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School,” the letter said. “Choosing not to make these changes will undermine the extraordinary progress that Hanover schools have made over decades as well as undermine our mutual efforts to provide a strong education for all of our county’s students.”
“This is a time of respect for all; this is a time for equality but also a time for empathy,” Gordon said. “I am hopeful that the current leaders of the board will recognize that the level of offensiveness in these two names should be rectified.”
However, not everyone agrees a name change should happen.
The Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans wants to see the names stay. In a letter sent to the board dated June 22, Andrew Morehead, a spokesperson for the group, stated online poll found 70% of Hanover residents wanted the names and mascots to remain.
“It is very appropriate, as this is a school board matter, that the underlying issue here is lack of education,” the letter reads. “The virtues of Lee, Jackson, and Davis can easily be researched online and the participants of this movement refuse to do so. All three of these men served heroically and honorably in the US Military prior to the outbreak of the War of Northern Aggression and were each devote Christian Gentlemen.”
There have also been legal attempts to get the names changed.
The Hanover NAACP filed a lawsuit against the Hanover County School Board in August 2019, claiming students’ 1st and 14th Amendment rights are being violated, and also their rights under the Equal Education Opportunity Act. The lawsuit said the county is compelling speech in support of “a legacy of segregation and oppression.”
The lawsuit was dismissed in May.
Morehead has called on the school board to "think about the lesson your actions will teach the world."
Meanwhile, Gordon and several other groups hope the board’s discussion will lean in their favor.
“The one quality I think is necessary is courage,” he added. “Leadership requires many qualities. The one that seems to be absent in many cases across this country is courage. I’m hopeful that the current board will summon the courage to do the right thing.”
The school board will enter a closed session at 6 p.m. and then hold the public virtual meeting at 7 p.m. The discussion on the name changes is expected to be discussed first on the “Action Agenda”.
For more information on how to tune into this meeting, click here.
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