Virginia board renames schools honoring 2 US presidents

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) — Schools in Virginia honoring two U.S. presidents who sided with or praised the Confederacy are getting new names, along with an elementary that honored a superintendent who funneled money away from Black schools.

The Portsmouth School Board voted 8-1 Thursday night to change the names of Woodrow Wilson High School, John Tyler Elementary School and James Hurst Elementary School, news outlets reported.

Alumni and others had pushed for the changes following the global protests against racism and police brutality.

Board member Lakeesha Atkinson said it’s about “righting the wrongs.”

Wilson, a progressive reformer who established the federal income tax, the central banking system and was a leading architect of the League of Nations, was also the first Southerner to serve as president since the Civil War.

A segregationist Democrat, he wrote a history textbook praising the Confederacy and the Ku Klux Klan, and worked to keep Black students out while serving as Princeton University’s president.

The school that bears the 28th president’s name in Portsmouth will be called Manor High School beginning next July, returning to the name it had before a merger with another school named after Wilson in the 1990s, WAVY-TV reported.

Waterview Elementary is the new name of the school named for John Tyler, the 10th president, who later sided with the Confederacy and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death in 1862.

The school honoring James Hurst, who was Norfolk County Schools superintendent in the early to mid 20th century, will be changed to Cradock Elementary, after the school’s historic neighborhood. Hurst’s budgets funneled money to white schools over Black schools, according to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

District officials estimated it could cost nearly $443,000 to rename the schools.

“We are in a COVID-19 pandemic. I just think $443,000 needs to be concentrated in the resources for students,” Board member Ted Lamb told WAVY-TV. He was the only board member who voted against the changes.

But Atkinson said money shouldn’t be a factor in the decision.

“If we focused on costs and finances we still would be in slavery,” she said.

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