If you’re a Black person attending a school named after Robert E. Lee, you probably already know something is mad wrong. But for years, students at Walter L. Parsley Elementary School in Wilmington, North Carolina, had no idea their school was named after a white supremacist.
Walter L. Parsley’s name may not have shown up in any of your history books. But he was one of the racist masterminds behind an 1898 plot to take back the thriving city of Wilmington from “Negro rule.”
Countless Black lives were lost during the violent plot, which involved overthrowing the city council and burning Black businesses (including the city’s only Black newspaper). But that didn’t stop school board members from approving the Parsley name in 1999, which stuck until the summer of 2020. “A lot of people did not know what Parsley represented,” said Deborah Dicks Maxwell, president of North Carolina’s NAACP.
It was during the time that the entire country was experiencing a racial reckoning, that a group of residents made the racist connection to Parsley’s racist past. The group then launched their quest to have the school’s name changed.
These days, the school is known as Masonboro Elementary School. Nearly 83 percent of the school’s student body identifies as white. And African American students make up just over one percent of the 17 percent who are classified as minorities.
Parsley Elementary alum Taylor White, who is Black, says that while it was upsetting to learn that her former school was named after a white supremacist, she’s also not entirely surprised. “the feeling was rage. It was frustration. It was anger,” she said. “But also just a realization that things really haven’t changed that much.”
According to a USA Today study, over 80 schools across the country have changed their names between the period of May 2020 and December 2021.