Richmond, Va., has gotten rid of the city’s only school named after a Confederate leader (sorta), and has renamed the building for the nation’s first black president.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the city’s school board voted 6-1 on Monday night to rename the J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School the Barack Obama Elementary School.
“It would be pretty awesome to have an elementary school in Richmond named after Barack Obama,” Liz Doerr, who represents the 1st District, said, according to the Times-Dispatch.
The student population of what will now be known as Barack Obama Elementary is more than 90 percent black.
The only dissenting vote came from Kenya Gibson, who represents the 3rd District, where the school is actually located. Gibson had pushed for the vote to be delayed and was unsuccessful. The reason for the vote against the renaming? Well, Gibson was apparently upset over the lack of local names included in the recommendations from administrators.
“This is Richmond, and we are about history and we have so many great local stories to tell,” Gibson said. “Our local stories are so important to cherish.”
Jonathan Young, who represents the 4th District, said he would have voted against the renaming but wasn’t present at Monday’s meeting to back up his big talk.
“Prayerfully, we are done renaming buildings and can instead start renovating them,” Young said before the vote.
I mean, sure, I guess, Young, pero por qué no los dos?
Anyway, the Richmond school isn’t the first school to be renamed for Obama. It’s not even the first school named after a Confederate leader to switch it up. Last year a public school in Mississippi named after Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the
losers Confederacy, voted to change its name to Obama’s.
As the Times-Dispatch notes, the school board announced its intention to rename J.E.B. Stuart Elementary back in April and thus began the monthslong process, which included five public input sessions and an online suggestion portal through which students, faculty and administrators could voice their opinions and submit their ideas for a new name.
The list of finalists included:
- Northside Elementary, for the location of the school
- Wishtree Elementary, for the children’s book that celebrates different cultures in a diverse neighborhood
- Oliver Hill Elementary, for the local civil rights attorney who helped end the idea of “separate but equal”
- Barbara Johns Elementary, for the civil rights leader who led a student strike at her Farmville, Va., high school
- Albert Norrell Elementary, for the longtime Richmond educator
- Henry Marsh Elementary, for the first black mayor of Richmond
- Barack Obama Elementary, for the first black U.S. president
As it turns out, Northside actually secured the most votes with students and led the pack of finalists with 190 votes. Obama got 166 votes and Wishtree got 127 thumbs-ups.
However, in the end, the administration recommended Obama, and the school board went through with it.
“It’s incredibly powerful that in the capital of the Confederacy, where we had a school named for an individual who fought to maintain slavery, that now we’re renaming that school after the first black president,” Superintendent Jason Kamras—who actually advised the 2008 Obama presidential campaign on education issues—said after the meeting. “A lot of our kids, and our kids at J.E.B. Stuart, see themselves in Barack Obama.”
It will cost about $26,000 to rename the school—but this is not nearly the first time the issue has come up. In 2003 a move to rename the school didn’t garner enough steam, with five board members killing the proposal. Carol Wolf, the woman who brought up the renaming in 2003, was present at the meeting and also wasn’t completely happy about the name choice ... although for different reasons.
“I am disappointed that we did not honor a local hero,” Wolf said after the vote. “And if we are honoring the Obamas, I would have preferred naming the school after Michelle [Obama], who was very active in this nation’s schools.”
And that is a pretty fair point.