White people want to have it both ways. They want so badly for Black people to understand that “the past is the past” and that “slavery is over,” but they also want desperately to cling to every monument and flag that celebrates institutions of oppression. They also apparently enjoy having things named for leaders of the Confederacy. Fortunately, activists who understand that immortalizing slavers and colonizers is no way to preserve history are being heard and changes are happening as a result. Now, schools across the state of Virginia are dropping their confederate names and mascots in favor of new, more progressive monikers and symbols.
The Washington Post reports that students, alumni and parents in Virginia have been successful in getting their counties and school districts to agree to long-overdue name changes for some of their schools.
The school board at Prince William County recently voted to change the names of two of their schools, both of which were named for Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.
As a result of the vote, Stonewall Middle School will have its name changed to Unity Braxton Middle School in honor of a well known Black couple from the county, Celestine and Carroll Braxton. According to WTOP News, Celestine Braxton was a civil rights activist and a Prince William County teacher for 33 years and her husband, Carroll, was one of the first Black men to enlist in the Marine Corps and a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012.
The board also voted to change Stonewall Jackson High School’s name to Unity Reed High School after Arthur Reed, a “much-loved security assistant at the high school,” WTOP reports.
According to the Post, Fairfax County is currently looking for a new name for Robert E. Lee High School which is named after another iconic (to white people) Confederate general. Two Black seniors from the high school helped lead the charge for this name change.
17-year-olds Kimberly Boateng and Kadija Ismail got involved in ongoing efforts to change the school’s name last year.
“One day I was sitting after school and the lobby was empty and I looked up and it was kind of menacing,” Boateng told the Post. “Then I walked to the plaque underneath it and saw it was donated by the Daughters of the Confederacy. And suddenly I felt, ‘This is ridiculous.’”
Ismail launched an online petition to change the name. That petition got over 1,000 signatures in the first 24 hours and, the next day, she and Boateng wrote an open letter to Superintendent Scott Brabrand and the school board. The board voted unanimously for the name change and now U.S. Rep. John Lewis, President Barack Obama and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez are among the names being considered for the school’s new title.
Last month, Loudoun County voted to remove the Raiders mascot from Loudoun County High School. The mascot was named for Confederate Col. John S. Mosby’s troops who are most known for being “guerrilla-style fighters who wrought havoc on Union supply lines,” the Post reports. That vote was also unanimous, but it came with plenty of objection.
The decision to change the school’s mascot also started with a petition. A white graduate from the school, Shawn Carver, launched a counter-petition saying the original mascot—a soldier holding a confederate flag—had already been changed to a “generic cowboy-like raider.” The petition urged the school board to “protect the legacy of thousands of students from being destroyed.” (Funny how it’s just a “generic” symbol, but also somehow vital to the school’s “legacy.” Somebody lying is all I’m saying.)
Carver’s petition got almost 1,000 signatures but the board voted unanimously to change the mascot all the same.