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Equity & Diversity

Despite Push, Few Schools Have Dropped Confederate Names

By Corey Mitchell — September 30, 2020 3 min read
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Four months ago, amid ongoing protests over police misconduct and racial injustice, campaigns emerged across the South to rename schools that honor Confederate figures.

Thus far, not much has changed.

An Education Week analysis shows that 11 of 211 of the nation’s Confederate-named schools, roughly 5 percent, have been renamed since June.

The most celebrated change occurred in Virginia, when school board members in Fairfax County renamed Robert E. Lee High School for John Lewis, the late civil rights icon and long-time Democratic congressman. Schools in five other states—Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, and West Virginia—also took on new names. In Alabama, a Department of Defense-operated school named for a Confederate general closed as scheduled to make way for a new building.

At least 11 other school districts across the South have started the name change process or approved plans to consider renaming schools. That list of districts includes the Duval County, Fla., schools, where six buildings are named for Confederate figures.

Protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd in May triggered the latest push to change school names, which has been gaining momentum since a white supremacist shot and killed nine Black people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015.

That mass murder, along with the death and injuries at a 2017 white supremacist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Va., marked critical junctures in the ongoing public debate around celebrating men who waged war to maintain slavery.

The American Civil War was fought in the 1860s, but many of the schools that honor Confederate figures were built or dedicated between 1950 and 1970 amid coordinated efforts by white Southerners who opposed the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that determined racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Other schools bear the names of individuals with racist histories, including 22 that are named after politicians who signed the Southern Manifesto opposing school integration after the Brown decision.

But after decades-long shifts in school attendance zones and housing patterns, the student enrollment at many of the Confederate-named schools has taken on a different tone: In 2018, an Education Week analysis showed that nearly two-thirds of students who attend the schools are not white.

As the schools have turned away from Confederate figures, some celebrate civil rights figures such as Lewis and educators who persevered against racial bigotry.

In July, the Grand Prairie, Tex., Independent School District renamed its Robert E. Lee Elementary School for 89-year-old Delmas Morton, a former student, teacher, and principal in the district. As a teenager, Morton was forced to attend high school in nearby Dallas because Grand Prairie did not have high schools for nonwhite students.

That same month, the Prince William County, Va., Public Schools board renamed a middle school that commemorated Confederate General Stonewall Jackson as Unity Braxton Middle School, to honor the contributions of civil rights activists and residents Carroll and Celestine Braxton.

Celestine Braxton, who taught in the district for more than 30 years and attended segregated schools in North Carolina as a child, was among the second wave of Black teachers to integrate the county’s teaching staff. In the early 1960s, when the county was still racially segregated, she defied a ban on teacher activism to pressure schools, restaurants, and hair salons to accept Black students and customers.

Braxton did not live to see the school named in her honor. She died in 2014 at age 87. Her husband survives her.

Education Week Librarians Holly Peele and Maya Riser-Kositsky contributed to this report.

Related Reading

Data: The Schools Named After Confederate Figures

Schools Named for Confederate Leaders: The Renaming Debate, Explained

The Schools That Bear the Names of Segregationists

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.