Outrage over the violence and hate on display during a rally of white supremacists and white nationalists last weekend in Charlottesville has reenergized efforts nationwide to strip Confederate symbols out of American public life — including from the names of public schools.
School officials and community members across the country have invoked the Charlottesville events — which left three people dead — to call for renaming schools in Dallas and Oklahoma City. The movement is resonating especially in Virginia, the scene of much of the Civil War.
Some in Arlington County are calling for officials to rename Washington-Lee High School, whose campus sits not far from the home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. And a school board member in Prince William County has begun raising funds to strip the name of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson from two schools.
A graduate of Lee-Davis High, which calls itself the “Home of the Confederates,” has begun a petition to rebrand his alma mater. That school, near Richmond, is named for Lee and Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederacy.
“Our school should not use the same names and symbols as violent extremist groups,” Ryan Leach, who is a 2010 graduate of Lee-Davis, wrote on Facebook.
The campaigns come as cities weigh the removal of statues and monuments honoring Confederate figures — a move President Trump has denounced as “the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.”
Data on school names from the National Center for Education Statistics show that at least 138 public schools nationwide in 2015-16 were named after Confederate leaders or for counties that bear the name of those leaders, including Lee, Jackson and Davis. They are largely concentrated in the South.
But the figure is probably an undercount of the Confederate imprint on school names, because it does not include less-prominent Rebel figures.
Schools named after Confederate leaders underwent soul-searching two years ago, after white supremacist Dylann Roof massacred nine black parishioners in a Charleston, S.C., church. San Diego’s Robert E. Lee Elementary, for example, was named Pacific View Leadership Elementary.
Dallas Independent School District in Texas — home to several schools bearing Confederate names — is among those reevaluating those names in light of the Charlottesville events.
Dallas school board member Miguel Solis, who wants to change those names, said he was shocked at how youthful many of the white nationalists in Charlottesville seemed. Roof was in his early 20s at the time of his attack.
“It is not okay for new generations to continue to cling to a dark moment and time in American history . . . and to have symbols that they can continue to rally around to help preserve a dark ideology,” Solis said. “We need to do something about it.”
Dan Micciche, president of the Dallas school board, wrote on Facebook that he supported Solis’s proposal.
“Over the weekend, we witnessed in Charlottesville a terrible tragedy caused by white supremacists,” he wrote. “There is no place for the violence and hatred we saw on display this weekend.”
Last year, the Dallas board approved the renaming of John B. Hood Middle School — named after a Confederate general — to Piedmont G.L.O.B.A.L. Academy in response to concerns from the community.
Officials in Oklahoma City are considering renaming four schools that bear Confederate names. Superintendent Aurora Lora said renaming a school can cost up to $75,000 — a significant burden at a time when the state’s schools are already struggling with cut-to-the-bone budgets. But in a statement posted on the district’s website, she said it is clear that “the historical names of some of our facilities are not names that reflect our values in 2017.”
Virginia, home to the capital of the Confederacy, has at least 19 schools named for Confederate generals. That will soon change. Last month, the Fairfax County school board last month voted to change the name of J.E.B. Stuart High, which was originally named for a Confederate cavalry officer. The county also has a high school named for Lee, but the board has not moved to rename it.
Those who back changing names argue that they were originally chosen in decades past to send a message to black students that they were not welcome. Many of the schools opened prior to court-ordered racial integration and served only white students.
In Arlington, a school board meeting Thursday night opened with a moment of silence for those who were killed and injured in Charlottesville. Barbara Kanninen, the board’s chair, said that the events raised important questions about how to name schools.
“It’s time to talk about the names of our schools, and what they mean, and why they matter. It is time to talk about the values these names reflect and the messages we are sending to our children,” Kanninen said.
Community members pleaded with the board to change the name of Washington-Lee High.
Marc Beallor, a retired union organizer and member of the activist group Indivisible Arlington, told the board it was improper to honor Lee alongside President George Washington.
“It emits the hypocritical and shameful message of moral equivalency between those who fought for freedom and those who fought for slavery,” said Beallor.
He added: “Let us act now in the memory of Heather Heyer, who gave her life in this cause,” referring to the woman who was fatally struck by a car Saturday in Charlottesville.
In Prince William, a school board member has called for stripping the name of Stonewall Jackson from two schools near Manassas, scene of the 1861 battle where the Confederate general, born Thomas Jonathan Jackson, earned his moniker. School board member Ryan Sawyers is raising funds from private donors to pay for the name change.
Sawyers said he was moved to start the campaign by last weekend’s events and wants to send a message that Virginia has evolved.
“This is certainly a nonviolent way to say that Virginia is moving on from its segregationist and racist past,” Sawyers said.
But there are plenty of people in the county who want the name to stay.
Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said the school was named for Stonewall Jackson “because . . . he was a good and honorable and noble man.” Stewart has threatened to reduce the school system’s funding if the proposal by Sawyers is approved.
“This is just political correctness run amok,” Stewart said.