Hanover County shows no sign of changing Confederate school names despite NAACP lawsuit

The NAACP filed a suit against Hanover County Aug. 16 over two schools named after Confederate leaders in the district. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Christina Amano Dolan, Contributing Writer

Hannah Eason, News Editor

In a mostly white county about 10 miles northeast of Richmond, a petition has gained almost 7,000 signatures to keep the names of two schools named after Confederate officials, Stonewall Jackson Middle School and Lee-Davis High School.

The Hanover County School Board — which covers a district that is about 86% white according to the U.S. Census Bureau — shows no sign of changing the names of the two schools, despite a recent lawsuit filed by the NAACP.

The NAACP suit argues that the usage of Confederate names forces students of color to “champion a legacy of segregation and oppression,” violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to free speech and equal protection.

The suit states that requiring black students to attend schools that blatantly glorify Confederate figures — Lee-Davis’ mascot is the “Confederates” and Stonewall Jackson’s is the “Rebels” — forces them to experience “racial harassment” producing long-term injury.

When African American students are required to identify as ‘Confederates’ or ‘Rebels’ in order to participate in school activities,” the suit states, “they are required to endorse the violent defense of slavery … and the symbolism that these images have in the modern white supremacist movement.”

Mack Shank, a VCU junior and drumline instructor at Lee-Davis, said he tries to educate his students on the history behind their school mascot, and how it may negatively affect others.

“I strongly believe the name should be changed,” Shank said. “I believe it has a deep negative impact on not just the students’ understanding of the Civil War, but their political sensitivity for their whole lives.”

Shank said his students “passionately believe” the school’s name should be changed.

“These kids I teach are remarkably smart and open minded,” the junior said. “They resent that their mascot is the Confederates, passionately believe it should be changed, and try to spread the word to their peers to beat the ignorance that definitely exists in the school.”

The NAACP suit argues that by naming the schools after two Confederate figures — both of whom have no immediate relation to the county of Hanover — the county’s intention was to “make it clear that African American students were not welcome.”

The Hanover County School Board approved the name of Stonewall Jackson Middle School in 1969, briefly after the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ordered Hanover County to “take whatever steps might be necessary to convert to a unitary system in which racial discrimination would be eliminated root and branch.” The school opened in 1970.

According to the suit, Lee-Davis remained largely segregated a decade after its opening, as 1,140 students were white and 44 were black. Today, as the school has more than 1,500 students, and less than 10% of the student body is black. More than 1,000 students attend Stonewall Jackson Middle School and 10% are black.

As of 2018, 31 Virginia schools were named after Confederate figures, and 18 of them changed the name by the end of last year. Today, only 11 remain, including Robert E. Lee High School in Fairfax County, Stonewall Jackson Elementary in Bristol, and Stonewall Jackson High School in Shenandoah.

In December 2017, residents of Hanover county petitioned to change the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School. In April 2018, the Hanover County School Board voted 5-2 to retain the names.

There are almost 7,000 signatures on a petition to keep both school names the same. A now-closed petition to change the names has 2,483 supporters.

Amanda Schloss, a sophomore at James Madison University and graduate of Patrick Henry High School in Hanover County, doesn’t see anything wrong with the school names.

“I personally don’t agree with [the names] being changed,” Schloss said. “I think it’s important to protect history. It’s taught in our schools, and it’s not something that can be forgotten. The confederate school name does not brand the students inside of it.”

Grace Skelton, sophomore at VCU and graduate of Atlee High School in Hanover County, said changing the names could make the schools more inclusive. 

“You have to think about the present and about the social and political climate going on in today’s world,” Skelton said. “Everyone should feel accepted and proud of who they are, and if the name of their high school makes someone feel the opposite way, then it definitely should be changed.”

First opening its doors in 1959 — as a white-only school until 1963 — Lee-Davis High School was founded during a time of resistance against the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. While federal law required the desegregation of schools, many Virginia localities employed tactics to resist the ruling. 

NAACP members’ children who attend the schools have refrained from participating in sports or other school activities “because they do not want to endorse the school’s pro-Confederacy name,” the lawsuit stated. 

Victoria Dawn Smith, senior at VCU and graduate of Lee-Davis, doesn’t think the Confederate names should remain.

We’re so accustomed to the name that many people just brush it off their shoulders,” Smith said. “But I do believe it should be changed. I don’t think it’s right by any means.”

16 Comments

  1. If the names and confederate statues offend african americans, or remind them of slavery, then why do they want to preserve other things about slavery?

  2. “These kids I teach are remarkably smart and open minded,” the junior said. “They resent that their mascot is the Confederates, passionately believe it should be changed, and try to spread the word to their peers to beat the ignorance that definitely exists in the school.”

    The above statement doesn’t describe “open-mindedness” nearly as much as it reflects the indoctrination that has ensnared the minds of publicly-educated Americans since the post-war era.

  3. If we don’t want to acknowledge the role racism played in naming these schools we could make the argument that it’s unfair to students to have to go to a school named after a loser…

    • fact is neither of these men ever owned slaves.in fact lincoln offered lee a generals position in the union army, but he was from virginia and wanted to protect his family from the slaughter the north was bringing down south

          • Lee was opposed to slavery.
            After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee attempted to present himself as always having been opposed to slavery. In an interview shortly after his surrender at Appomattox, Lee said “the best men of the South” had been eager to do away with slavery. In early 1866, he testified before the Joint Committee on Reconstruction that he had “always been in favor of emancipation — gradual emancipation.” And in 1869, a year before he died, Lee reportedly told the Reverend John Leyburn he had never been an advocate of slavery. He added that he was happy slavery had been abolished, and would “cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered to have this object attained.”
            The historical record, alas, doesn’t support his claim. Lee owned or managed slaves for over thirty years — in April 1861, he oversaw roughly 200 slaves — and always sought to maximize the value of his human property. Lee may have complained about the “peculiar institution,” but he and his family benefited from it tremendously.
            Before the war, Lee held two somewhat different ideas about slavery in his mind at the same time. He conceded that slavery “was a moral and political evil in any country,” but also believed that slavery was ordained by God, and was part of the necessary historical development of African Americans. In January 1865, several months before the end of the war, Lee wrote that he believed “the relation of master and slave, controlled by humane laws and influenced by Christianity and an enlightened public sentiment [was] the best that can exist between the white and black races…”

          • Jefferson Davis led a secluded life for the next eight years on his cotton plantation at Davis Bend, Mississippi. A slaveholder, Davis firmly believed in the importance of the institution of slavery for the South. In 1845 he married his second wife, Varina Howell, a young woman eighteen years old. Jefferson and Varina Davis eventually had six children—two girls and four boys—but only their daughters lived into adulthood.

  4. The NAACP has been the most racist organizationnsince the early 1980’s when their president ,Andrew Young, found they were going broke and needed a cause to continue bringing in money and retaining contributing members! Their idea was to slander the Southern whites by claiming the whole period of the Confederacy was about Slavery!! Learn your history and quit spreading lies!!!

    • Which ‘states rights’ were they fighting over , exactly? I am a ardent student of history. So. I’m patient and can wait. Go on. Find the answer.

  5. Why are we trying to delete history. I am so sick and tired of all this removing of history around Virginia because someone feel that it is about slavery. Come on people this is our countries history you can’t remove it it happened many years ago. Why now???? I don’t like what happened many years ago but that was then this is now and our history and names on our schools should stay as they are PART of our history.

    • So. How many other schools are named after Traitors and Losers? There’s a reason there is no Adolf Hitler High school. He’s part of history, too.

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