A momentous issue is on the agenda for Thursday's Shenandoah County School Board meeting – whether or not to begin the process of renaming two schools bearing the names of Confederate generals: Stonewall Jackson High School and Ashby Lee Elementary School.
The intense nationwide refocusing on race relations and the legacy of white supremacy caused by the murders of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks (and many others before them) by white police officers has required a reexamination of the toxic effect on race relations, and false-narrative history of having public schools named for Confederate leaders.
It was just over a month ago that Pastor Leon McCray, an African-American Woodstock resident, was initially arrested by Shenandoah County Sheriff's deputies while defending himself. Only with the intervention of Sheriff Timothy Carter were five white persons of Edinburg arrested and charged in the incident.
This incident received local, state and national coverage, creating a powerful focus on the status of race relations and policing in our county.
Since the publication of my commentary, "What’s in a Name?,” on June 17, several Virginia school systems have renamed schools:
• The Prince William County School Board voted, unanimously on June 29, to rename two schools named for Gen. Stonewall Jackson.
• The Fairfax County School Board launched a process to rename Robert E. Lee High School.
• The Bristol, Virginia, School Board was scheduled to undertake the renaming of Washington-Lee and Stonewall Jackson elementary schools at its meeting this week.
• The Falls Church City Public Schools School Board is considering renaming George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson elementary.
Advocates for renaming these Shenandoah County schools do not advocate a rewriting of history or a change of anyone’s heritage.
There should be no change regarding the Confederate military service of the ancestors of many of our county’s citizens, their service records, the official archives of their units and battles, or their letters, diaries and photos. All of this is rightfully cherished by their descendants. The Sons of Confederate Veterans will continue their recounting of the war.
The numerous books written about the Civil War in the Valley, and the local history materials in the Shenandoah Room of the Shenandoah County Library, are all readily available.
The Virginia Museum of the Civil War in New Market and the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Park in Middletown, including its programs on slavery, are essential resources for studying the war.
The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation will continue to leverage numerous funding sources, to acquire battlefield land, install educational displays thereon, and issue publications about the war in the valley.
Paramount to all the personal and public history, today, is a frank and just consideration of the truths about the Civil War, in the context of our nation’s renewed emphasis on the experiences of the African-American race, from 1619 until today.
Shenandoah County must not maintain public school facilities named for generals who led Confederate troops in battles to destroy the Union in the defense of slavery and white supremacy.
Our students must no longer be required to experience such an educational environment – with athletic uniforms, yearbooks, newspaper articles, and diplomas bearing those names.
Given the proper, and necessary, action by our School Board in passing a “Resolution condemning racism and affirming the division’s commitment to an inclusive environment for all,” on June 25, I urge our School Board members to take to mind and heart this statement, by a Fairfax County School Board member:
"...As evidenced by our Board's work to rename other schools, we cannot live up to that standard if we force students to attend schools named in honor of the racist vestiges of our past — especially as we seek to combat racism in our present. In other words, a school system that honors the Confederacy cannot honor black lives. We owe it to our students, staff and communities to take decisive action and demonstrate the sense of urgency that these and other issues deserve." (Fairfax County School Board Member Karl Frisch, June 25, The Connection Newspapers)
Any school board member who is properly and accurately informed of the relevant history, including the false narrative of the “Lost Cause,” and aware of current local, state, and national focus on race relations, should require no more than a few moments of reflection to arrive at a “yes” vote to begin the process of renaming our schools.