The wheels are in motion for the Richmond School Board to change the name of the city’s lone Confederate-named school.
At its work session Monday night, the board formally started the process by declaring its intent to rename J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School, which is named after a Confederate general. The vote was 8-1.
The decision comes as a committee appointed by the Roanoke School Board is expected to make a recommendation later this spring on renaming Roanoke’s only school named for a Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson Middle School. The committee is taking comments online until Sunday.
Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras recommended that the board vote Monday night and start the process. He also suggested that the school be renamed for Oliver Hill, the late civil rights attorney from Richmond, who grew up in Roanoke.
Monday’s vote is a step further than a failed attempt 15 years ago to rename the Richmond school. In 2003, the board voted 5-1, with three abstentions, against starting the process. The board’s 2003 patron, Carol Wolf, also suggested Oliver Hill as a replacement name.
“I’m thrilled that we are taking this step,” said Kenya Gibson, who represents the 3rd District, which includes the school. “These names reflect the segregated past that we have come from.”
“This is an important symbolic step in the right direction,” said Scott Barlow, the board’s 2nd District representative. “Wrong name. Wrong time. Wrong city.”
Jonathan Young of the 4th District was the only vote in opposition.
“Our nation, though the most perfect in the history of civilization, is stained by truly awful — even evil — history, but I pray that we always tell all of our history, even the bad,” Young said after the vote.
The board must now have a public comment period of at least one month and hold at least two public hearings within the school’s community.
Young’s sentiment was similar to that of several parents and relatives of students currently enrolled at the school, who said Monday afternoon that they want the names kept.
“I want to see money spent on things that would actually impact people — like homeless shelters and education — rather than something you just drive by and see,” said Antoine Nelson, who has had three children go through the school, including one currently enrolled. “The money can be spent on bigger issues compared to what people are just talking about.”
Nelson said he knew it was only a matter of time before Richmond’s Confederate school name was the center of debate, after Petersburg voted in February to rename three Confederate-named schools.
George Pearson, who has a grandson attending Stuart and is a self-proclaimed history scholar, said he also favors keeping the name.
“History is good and bad,” he said. “If it weren’t for history, we wouldn’t know how to go forward.”
Tom Hartman, the lone speaker during the public comment period of Monday night’s meeting, said the board should change the name.
“I stand in no judgment of the man. I stand in judgment of the symbol,” he said, adding later: “Take a stand for future generations. Take a stand for what is right.”