The Hanover County chapter of the NAACP is suing the county and its school board over the names of two schools named after Confederate leaders.
The lawsuit states that the names of the schools — Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School — violate African American students’ protection under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The NAACP believes the names also violate students’ First Amendment protection from “compelled speech.” For example, the lawsuit suggests that wearing uniforms donning the schools’ names and mascots forces students to engage in speech they do not approve of or agree with. Lee-Davis’ mascot is the “Confederates,” and Stonewall Jackson’s mascot is the “Rebels.”
Lee-Davis is named after General Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The school did not fully integrate until 1969, a full decade after it first opened. The NAACP claims that naming both schools after Confederate figures “told every African American student that s/he was not welcome in Hanover County.”
In 2018, Hanover’s school board members voted 5-2 against changing the names of the schools. In June, Marla Coleman — one of the two members who voted in favor of changing the schools’ names — was removed from her position on the board. The supervisor who refrained from renewing Coleman’s role on the school board told the Richmond Times Dispatch that Coleman’s vote on the name changes had no bearing on the decision to name someone else to the position.
The NAACP’s suit comes at a time when numerous schools in Virginia are making decisions to leave Confederate-named schools in the past. At the beginning of 2018, 31 schools in Virginia were named after Confederate figures. By the end of the year, 18 of those schools had changed their names.
Richmond is no stranger to these changes. Last year, the Richmond Public School Board voted to change the name of J.E.B Stuart Elementary School to Barack Obama Elementary School by an 8-1 vote.
The NAACP first urged Hanover County to change the names of the schools in 1970. The request was made again in 2017. The county’s response was to conduct a survey, which showed a large majority of residents did not want to see the names or mascots of the schools changed.
Robert Barnette, Hanover NAACP president, said the lawsuit was not the desired approach to seeing the proposed changes brought about.
“We felt like they made their decision and they’re just not going to take us seriously,” Barnette told the Washington Post. “We wanted to make sure we had exhausted all options before we went the legal route.”
Of the nearly 2,600 students that attend the two schools, almost 10 percent are African American. Representatives from Hanover County have refused to comment on the impending lawsuit.
Top Photo: Lee-Davis High School, via Facebook