What's in a name? Virginia school enters
Confederate symbols battle
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[August 19, 2017]
By Fatima Bhojani
MANASSAS, Va. (Reuters) - In the northern
Virginia county where Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
earned his famous moniker, a battle has begun to remove his name from
the local high school where it appears in large white letters on the red
Inspired by last weekend's race-fueled violence in Charlottesville, a
local official proposed renaming the school, extending the debate over
Confederate monuments to institutions whose names honor the leaders of
the pro-slavery Southern states in the U.S. Civil War.
"It's time to recognize that these schools were named in error," said
Ryan Sawyers, who is chairman of the Prince William County school board
and is also running for U.S. Congress next year as a Democrat. "It's
time to right that wrong."
His proposal on Wednesday set off a firestorm of debate in the
picturesque suburban county about 40 miles (65 km) southwest of
Washington, D.C., and provided a taste of what likely awaits similar new
efforts in states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
"Despicable," Corey Stewart, the Republican chairman of Prince William's
Board of County Supervisors and a 2018 U.S. Senate candidate, said of
the idea of changing the name of Stonewall Jackson High School.
A strong supporter of President Donald Trump, Stewart ran unsuccessfully
for governor this year largely on a platform of preserving Confederate
Trump has faced a storm of criticism over his remarks on last Saturday's
unrest in Charlottesville, where white nationalists rallied to protest
the planned removal of a Confederate statue and a woman was killed when
a car plowed through counter-protesters. The president has blamed the
violence on not just the rally organizers but also on the anti-racist
activists who confronted them.
Trump has also sided with those who favor keeping Confederate monuments
in place, saying they are beautiful and will be missed if removed.
Opponents of such monuments view them as a festering symbol of racism
since the Confederacy fought for the preservation of slavery. Supporters
say they honor American history. Some of the monuments have become
rallying points for white nationalists.
General Jackson, who led Confederate troops in several key victories,
earned his nickname in July 1861 during one of two major battles fought
near Manassas, when a fellow general is said to have shouted: "There is
Jackson standing like a stone wall!"
"He's revered throughout Virginia and in Prince William County," Stewart
said. "To take his name off a school is really a slap in the face to an
Stonewall Jackson High School, named in 1964 at the height of the civil
rights era, is three miles (5 km) from Manassas battlefield. Its 2,400
students are 17 percent black, 19 percent white and more than half
Historians note that much like the installation of many Confederate
statues, such school names were given decades after the Civil War ended
in 1865, mostly as a response by local officials to growing calls for
racial equality in the United States.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group, said it
was aware of about 100 U.S. schools and nearly 500 roads named after
Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals. About half of the schools
are in Virginia and Texas.
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Stonewall Jackson High School is pictured in this still image from
video, in Manassas, Virginia, U.S., August 17, 2017. Image taken
August 17, 2017. REUTERS/Greg Savoy
In Dallas, where at least four schools are named for Confederate
figures, the school board president said this week he had added the
issue to the agenda of an upcoming meeting.
"It's very hard for me to come up with an answer to an
African-American child, or any child, who asks, 'Why is this school
named in honor for someone who fought to keep my ancestors
enslaved?'" said the president, Dan Micciche.
THE LAST STRAW
Sawyers, of the Prince William County school board, said the
Charlottesville events were "the last straw" for him. An online
fundraising campaign he started to avoid using taxpayer funds for a
name change to Stonewall Jackson High School has raised about
Two district teachers, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly
about the controversy, criticized the idea of spending up to
$750,000 on replacing signage, buying new sports uniforms and
Parents on Sawyers' Facebook page echoed that concern. But Cedric
Lockhart, who has three children in the school system, contributed
"Having a school named after somebody who fought to enslave
African-American families like mine – it just feels inappropriate in
2017," he said in a phone interview.
Lockhart, who grew up in Prince William and attended another high
school, said he always found the school's name disturbing.
Mikayla Harshman, a 2014 graduate of Stonewall Jackson High, said
she opposed changing the name.
"They're erasing history," said Harshman, 21, who is white and
majoring in American history at Radford University. "I feel like
taking something like that away is taking away an opportunity to
Confederate memorials are widespread in Virginia, which saw some of
the deadliest Civil War battles. There is a cannon from the era at
the entrance of the historic district of downtown Manassas, which
seems plucked from the past with its small, quaint buildings.
Standing outside the local museum, Shiine Jackson, 32, a student at
Northern Virginia Community College, said she supported changing the
high school name.
"The name stands for the Confederacy," said Jackson, who is black.
"This is the South. As a minority, I’ve experienced a lot of racism
in my life."
(This story corrects 4th paragraph, corrects direction to
"southwest," not "east")
(Reporting and writing by Joseph Ax in New York; Additional
reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Colleen Jenkins in North
Carolina and Fatima Bhojani in Manassas, Virginia; Editing by Dina
Kyriakidou and Frances Kerry)
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