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Virginia NAACP Sues Board for Naming Schools after Confederate Military Leaders

Virginia NAACP President Rev. Cozy Bailey leads a press conference announcing the Virginia NAACP's suit against the Shenandoah School Board. Photo credit: Ralph Winfrey

The Virginia NAACP and students are suing a county school board for its decision to reinstate the names of Confederate enslavers to two schools, claiming white board members “reaffirmed” a commitment “to White supremacy and the celebration of a race-based rebellion against the (U.S.) with their vote.”


Black Girl Times covered the 5-1 decision by the Shenandoah County School Board to revert the name of Mountain View High School back to “Stonewall Jackson High School,” and Honey Run Elementary to “Ashby Lee Elementary.” Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was a Confederate general who gained notoriety at the First Battle of Bull Run, while “Ashby Lee” is the combined name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Confederate cavalry officer Turner Ashby, who died in battle, possibly from a bullet by his own men. The board’s vote undid a 2020 decision by different board members to make Shenandoah schools more inclusive of non-white students.


"Students are required to identify as members of ... teams named to honor Confederate leaders in order to participate in school activities"

Virginia NAACP President Cozy Bailey said when students now walk the halls of renamed “Stonewall Jackson High School” and “Ashby Lee Elementary School,” they will do so “with inescapable reminders of Confederate legacies that enslaved and discriminated against African-descended people. This community deserves better.”


The complaint argues forcing Black students to attend a school honoring Confederate leaders creates a school environment that denies them an equal opportunity to an education and violates their right to Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment and First Amendment right to free speech.


“When students are required to identify as members of student bodies or teams named to honor Confederate leaders in order to participate in school activities, they are required against their will to endorse the violent defense of slavery pursued by the Confederacy and the symbolism that these images have in the modern White supremacist movement,” the complaint claims.


Plaintiffs, which include unnamed Black students attending the controversial schools, say they are bringing this case “to redress the creation and maintenance of a discriminatory environment that erodes their right to receive an education and to be free from compelled speech they consider vile.”


The name reversion came after recent school board elections installed a hard MAGA agenda to the board. The rollback follows a concerted national effort by white agitators to remove and censor lessons on Black history and slavery in classrooms and reverse diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on campuses, in businesses and in government.  


Shenandoah Community members in support of and opposed to the reversion filled the board room preceding the May vote. Former Stonewall Jackson High School teacher Bo Dickinson warned the board renaming schools after abominable racists and murderers would be “resurrecting” an act of resistance “forever rooted in Jim Crow segregation.”  

“This school was named in 1959 over 95 years after Stonewall’s death,” Dickinson said. “Why did it take nearly a century to suddenly discover this so-called heritage in the middle of the 20th century? In 1959, the national news was centered on Virginia as federal courts issued the first court orders to desegregate public schools. In response Sen. Harry Byrd declared massive resistance to racial integration and Gov. Lindsay Almond closed schools that attempted to integrate. … It was precisely at this very moment that Shenandoah County School Board chose to name its new high school after a confederate general who fought in the defense of slavery and state’s rights.” 


Standing with the board, however, were Confederate sympathizers like Virginia Rudson, who described the earlier board that removed the confederate names as “dishonest.” A COVID denier, Rudson also accused the board of violating pandemic-related safety rules during what she called the ‘planned-demic.” 


Other MAGA-style commenters stood before the board and slammed the Black Lives Matter Movement and campaigns to reduce police violence against African Americans. One speaker named “Gloria” claimed her daughter said teachers had to remove a “Black Lives Matter” sign from a classroom because Black and Hispanic kids were saying “white lives did not matter.” In the board meeting recording, she offered no details regarding names and dates. 


“Racism is everywhere. It’s not just whites,” Gloria claimed. “… Whites are not racist—like we’ve been pegged that we are—just because we want a (slaver’s) name back on a school.” 


The NAACP pointed out that Shenandoah County has a sordid history of cultivating a segregated school system and opposing integration. White county leadership deliberately constructed Stonewall Jackson High School as an all-white school five years after the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision.


“The Confederate names signaled to Black students and their families that they were not welcome at the schools, and it took another several years for the first Black students to enroll in high school during the 1963-64 school year,” the organization said in a released statement.


The suit is filed in United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia.


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