MOUNT JACKSON — Protesters gathered outside town hall Saturday, expressing umbrage with the Shenandoah County School Board’s decision to retire school names and nicknames with ties to the Confederate states defeated in the Civil War.
Last week, the Shenandoah County School Board voted 5-1 to rename Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School while also scrapping North Fork Middle School’s Rebel mascot.
Renee Hawkins, a 1988 Stonewall Jackson High School graduate and the event’s organizer, explained the gathering was a protest against the School Board’s decision.
“It’s been that way, it should stay that way. All this name changing kind of has to come to a stop somewhere. Our entire state is named after slave owners because we were one of the first colonies. When does it end?” she said.
One of the main reasons for the protest, she said, is that the School Board did not give the public proper notice of the pending decision, as many citizens do not get the newspaper or do not have the internet and “weren’t able to sign up to speak.”
She added that two petitions – one in favor of the name changes and one opposed – circulated. The one in favor of the name changes, she said, had over 2,000 signatures and “we didn’t even know if they were all Shenandoah County residents.” Meanwhile, the petition opposing the name changes had about 4,000 signatures “and they were all Shenandoah County residents,” she said.
Hawkins said there is “no legitimate reason” for the decision.
“I have never owned a slave. None of these people here ever owned a slave, you know, that’s the past. We have a history, you can’t deny it. It’s there, you can’t change it so, you know, live with it. And people that are interpreting the rebel flag as hatred need to learn history. The Civil War started in 1861. Lincoln didn’t emancipate until 1863. So, they’re saying the war was about slavery? And then when he did emancipate, he only emancipated the slaves in the southern states, not any state or town in the Union control. Those slaves were still slaves, he didn’t emancipate them. So don’t tell me that this is about slavery,” she said.
Todd Saylor, a 2019 Stonewall Jackson graduate holding a sign stating “we will be heard,” said he came to support his community.
“I think it’s a bunch of bull crap that the Stonewall name is being changed,” he said. “I came to protest today to hopefully change that.”
Michael Saylor, his father, held a sign asking “when does it end?” He said, “to me, it ends here.”
“It’s got to end here…It’s about our history, it’s about our legends,” he said.
Michael Saylor noted that from “1958 through last week, there wasn’t a problem.” He added frustration over the School Board’s procedures, as he was “cut off” while speaking during last week’s meeting. If it doesn’t “end here,” he said, “we’re in trouble.”
Douglas Marston, 77, who helped build Stonewall Jackson High School, said he came to the protest because “I think what they’re trying to do is wrong.”
“I think it’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard. They want to change the name, they want to change the memorials. They’re not going to change history. The only thing that can change history is people study history and know what it’s all about and try to do better. Not tearing down the monuments and all of that. That isn’t going to help anything,” he said.
Caelan Hottle, 17, a rising Stonewall Jackson senior, said: “I just don’t like the fact that all the history is going to be gone when they change the name.”
“It’s been the same name for a really long time,” he said.
Andrew Dorrin, of Edinburg, said the name change does not bother him, but he was bothered by the way the School Board reached that “spineless” decision. He noted the petitions in saying that citizens with a minority opinion were rewarded.
“I just don’t feel like that’s the way we do things. Kick our feet on the ground like little babies and get our way. And that’s exactly what the School Board just proved to them. They kind of said ‘the heck with the taxpayers, the heck with the people that support it’ and went ahead and just made their own agenda. And you know, it’s got to be political,” Dorrin said.
Hawkins said the protesters are still considering what future steps to take. She said the protesters have “lawyers that we are consulting with” and “the law says that a judicial review can be had by students’ parents” so “we are getting a petition of students’ parents at the school.”
Although there were rumbles of a potential counter-protest, no such event was visible as the protest at town hall began. Hawkins said those planning that supposed counter-protest “think they’re gonna scare us” but “they know better.”
“Don’t mess with a bunch of rednecks that are P.O.’ed,” she said.