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Renaming school the right call

Changing the name of Stonewall Jackson Middle School was clearly, to borrow part of a famous phrase, “an idea whose time has come.”

There had been efforts to change the name in the past, all rebuffed. But the groundswell of support from the local Black community and others this time, against a backdrop of national racial tension, resonated with the Kanawha County Board of Education, as members voted unanimously July 6 to do away with the name.

It was the right decision. On one hand, it could appear difficult. Monuments and buildings named after the Confederate general can be found all across the South, but Jackson was actually from what would eventually become West Virginia. Still, as has been said in many different ways over the past few weeks, just because someone is from a place doesn’t mean they should be honored.

Jackson joined a secession from the United States and fought a war to preserve the enslavement of Black Americans. That is nothing to celebrate, especially at a school where the Black student population is 42 percent, the highest anywhere in West Virginia.

Stonewall Jackson’s name was put on that building in 1940, when it opened as a high school, during a time of segregation. Confederate iconography was popular in many states from the early 1900s through the 1960s and beyond, because it glorified a misconstrued past and reminded Blacks who had ideas about true equality exactly where they stood in this country.

That was a long time ago. The school’s name should’ve been changed well before 2020, even if some still cling to outdated notions of race, wrapped in an argument that changing the name somehow does a disservice to history.

If anything, history will celebrate what happened July 6. And now the school board has the chance to expand on this historical moment by choosing a name that will honor not just the person, but the culture of a more deserving West Virginian, perhaps Katherine Johnson, Booker T. Washington, Leon Sullivan or another of the many prominent Black Americans who hailed from the Mountain State.

Black children, parents, teachers and administrators can walk into the school and feel proud, rather than angry or confused by the veneration of a man who fought a war against his own country to keep their ancestors in chains.

* Guest editorial from the Charleston Gazette-Mail in Charleston, W.V.

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