Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is urging school districts across the state to change school names that honor Confederate figures, declaring that names reflect a “broken and racist past.”
“When those names reflect our broken and racist past, they also perpetuate the hurt inextricably woven into this past,” Northam wrote in a letter this week to school board chairpersons across the state. “When our public schools are named after individuals who advanced slavery and systemic racism, and we allow those names to remain on school property, we tacitly endorse their values as our own.”
Schools named for leaders of the Confederacy, both public and private, have come under renewed scrutiny amid the national Black Lives Matter protests.
Virginia is home to 24 of the nearly 200 U.S. schools, spread across 18 states, that are named for men with ties to the Confederacy, an Education Week analysis of federal data found. The state has the second highest total in the country, trailing only Texas.
Schools in Virginia were among the first in the nation to approve name changes this year. In recent weeks, Schools in Fairfax County and Prince William counties in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., have decided to rename schools named for Gens. Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.
But one school district in the state is still clinging to its school names. In May, in Hanover County near Richmond, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by the local NAACP chapter that sought to force a name change for two district schools: Stonewall Jackson Middle and Lee-Davis High, named respectively for Lee and Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate states.
Northam’s stance on Confederate schools and monuments stands in stark contrast with state leaders in places such as Alabama, where the state attorney general has vowed to uphold a state law that prohibits the removal of Confederate statues and the renaming of most Confederate-named schools.
Photo Credit: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gestures during a news conference at the Capitol Wednesday April 8, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Northam gave an update on his Covid-19 plans. (Steve Helber/AP)