Virginia School Board Votes to Restore the Names of Three Confederate Officers to Schools

Four years ago in the summer of 2020, at the height of the pandemic and the George Floyd protests, the Shenandoah County, Va., school board met virtually and voted 5-1 to change the names of Ashby-Lee Elementary and Stonewall Jackson High. Both schools were named after Confederate officers, and in the climate in 2020, removing the names was seen as a gesture to “racial reckoning.” 

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The schools were renamed “Honey Run” and “Mountain View.” Give me “Stonewall” any day.

Early Friday morning, the Shenandoah County school board reversed that decision, the first in the nation to do so.

At the time, the board had passed a resolution condemning racism and the schools honoring Confederate officers seemed at odds with the spirit of the resolution. 

But from the time the decision to remove the names was announced, there was pushback from county residents that morphed into a full-fledged revolt. 

“When you read about this man — who he was, what he stood for, his character, his loyalty, his leadership, how Godly a man he was — those standards that he had were much higher than any leadership of the school system in 2020,” said Tom Streett, one the board members. I don’t know about the “loyalty” of a man who took an oath to defend the Union and then fought to destroy it. But the rest of it was about right.

There’s really no question about the personal valor of Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Turner Ashby. It was the side they fought for that was controversial.

The eternal argument that the soldiers were just defending their homes (and property) and didn’t give a whit about slavery echoes down to the present.

“I ask that when you cast your vote, you remember that Stonewall Jackson and others fighting on the side of the Confederacy in this area were intent on protecting the land, the buildings, and the lives of those under attack,” said a woman urging the board to restore the Confederate names. “Preservation is the focus of those wishing to restore the names.”

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Is it really?

CNN:

Parents and residents expressed their opposition and support to restoring the school names. In an April 3 letter to the school board, the Coalition for Better Schools said it believed “that revisiting this decision is essential to honor our community’s heritage and respect the wishes of the majority.”

The group told CNN before the vote took place that it “has full confidence in our current school board to listen to the voice of its constituents and follow the wishes of the majority in the county. Unfortunately, the previous school board did not take those things into consideration. We believe that ‘We the People’ is an important part of our Constitution and should be upheld at every level of our government.”

Sarah Kohrs, a mother of two students attending schools in the district, is among several parents and residents who said ahead of the vote that they were opposed to restoring the Confederacy-tied names and were frustrated it was being considered.

For myself, protecting tradition is vitally important. And changing the names of schools named after Confederate officers or politicians is too much like erasing history to me. 

The deeds of those men don’t have to be honored. But they need to be recognized as a large part of our shared history. The Civil War was a gigantic scar on America whose politics still faintly echoes today. It is unnecessarily hurtful to ignore the pain and obscenities of slavery as well as denigrate the courage and sacrifices of the Southern soldiers by stereotyping them as one-dimensional racist traitors.

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One history. Two sides. One shared tragedy. Until both sides come to grips with the notion that we’re all Americans with a common heritage of pain and glory, we’re likely to repeat the mistakes of the past and relive the trauma.

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