Petitions gain support over keeping, renaming Lee-Davis High School

Petitions gain support over keeping, renaming Lee-Davis High School

HANOVER, VA (WWBT) - The debate continues over petitions to change or keep the name of Lee-Davis High School. There are two online petitions gaining the support of people in Hanover County and beyond.

In August, following the division and violence in Charlottesville, 2010 Lee Davis graduate Ryan Leach wrote a Facebook status asking if former and current members of the Lee-Davis community would be interested in starting a petition to start a movement to change the name of Lee-Davis, named after two confederate leaders, General Robert E. Lee and President Jefferson Davis.

"There is an intense culture of conservatism towards tradition and Confederate heritage in Mechanicsville, Virginia. An emblem of Robert E Lee & Jefferson Davis and/or 'Home of the Confederates' has been on the website, front of the building, in the lobby, on the sports fields, on gym clothes, on athletic wear AND MORE!," wrote Leach on Facebook.

Leach now lives in Brooklyn, NY, but says the confederate symbols and names cast a shadow over the quality education he says students receive at Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School.

Reaching out to the community, he received hundreds of comments on both sides of the issue, eventually starting a petition that has garnered more than 1,200 signatures.

"I became introduced to an entire network of alumni, faculty, current students and former faculty who all want this name to be changed and they started to share their personal stories and experiences with me," said Leach.

One of those experiences is that of Nannie Davis, a 1967 graduate of Lee-Davis. Davis says thinking about the experience brings back mixed emotions, because at times she didn't feel she belonged, facing racism, as one of only seven African-American students in the school at the time.

"My graduation ring had confederate flags, General Lee and Jefferson Davis on it, so you know when you graduate you want to show off what you have? I could never share it," Davis explained.

Fifty years after graduating, Davis has become a part of the movement to change the name of the school. She says it is an effort to foster a more inclusive community.

"It's been on my heart since I entered Lee-Davis, that the name should not be Lee-Davis," she said. "They should change the name of the school to something every child could celebrate, a neutral name."

Davis has shared her experience, speaking before the school board, urging them to consider a name change.

"We don't necessarily need to use Confederate symbols to honor the history of Hanover County. There are other ways we can go about honoring the history that includes everyone," said Leach.

A second petition supporting the name of the school was created about four months ago, with more than 6,100 people signing it. Many say the history should not be erased, and that instead, the community should learn from it.

The organizer of the petition in support of keeping the name wrote the following letter:

Keep Lee Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School's name as they are. The names of the two schools are a part of United States history, and it will always be a part of history. Children who attend any Virginia school will hear about the history of the Confederacy. Richmond was historically significant in the Civil War which is why many schools around the area are named after people in the war. The names have nothing to do with slavery or racism, because there were many other issues that caused the Civil war. The names represent two leaders who took the initiative for freedom in the South.

For Nannie Davis, the names changing would mean a new day, in a time where tensions are at an all-time high surrounding Confederate symbols in the U.S. It's a change she hopes to see one day, and plans to continue to stand behind.

"I'm 68 now, so I may not see it, but in my grandchildren's life time, it will change," said Davis.

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