A Virginia school board is studying whether to rename a middle school that is named after one of the architects of Massive Resistance, a set of policies that aggressively pushed back against court-ordered integration of public schools in the 1950s and 1960s.

Parents and students supporting the name change at Harry F. Byrd Middle School in Henrico County, just outside Richmond, are confounded that their school could be named for a man who fought to keep black and white students from attending school together. The school’s population is now about evenly split between white students and minorities; about 20 percent of its students are black.


“This is a man who stood in the way of education, and this is a building dedicated to education,” said Jordan Chapman, a graduate of the middle school and a Hermitage High senior who started the name-change campaign . An online petition has drawn hundreds of supporters.

This is a tough one.  I don’t believe in stripping schools of their names.  If a school is dedicated to someone, then it is dedicated as long as that building stands.  The building opened in 1971.  That was plenty of time to assess the man’s segregationist roots.   Yes, Harry Flood Byrd was a segregationist.

In his era, probably 95% of the people were segregationists, including African Americans.   People who held leadership positions in the south were segregationists.  If they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t have held those positions.

Byrd solidly supported massive resistance in Virginia after the Brown V. Board of Education was handed down in 1956.  According to the Virginia Historical Organization:

In 1954, the political organization of U.S. senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., controlled Virginia politics. Senator Byrd promoted the “Southern Manifesto” opposing integrated schools, which was signed in 1956 by more than one hundred southern  congressmen. On February 25, 1956, he called for what became known as Massive Resistance. This was a group of laws, passed in 1956, intended to prevent integration of the schools. A Pupil Placement Board was created with the power to assign specific students to particular schools. Tuition grants were to be provided to students who opposed integrated schools. The linchpin of Massive Resistance was a law that cut off state funds and closed any public school that attempted  to integrate.

Senator Harry F. Byrd is part of our history–a big part of our Virginia history.  Do we honor him or rebuke him?  All sorts of buildings and parks are named for Byrd.  The question becomes, when do we stop stripping away honorary names because of segregation?  Do we rename the Washington and Jefferson memorials?  Do we start here in Prince William County and strip Stonewall of its name?

In Virginia, if we held tight to this standard, there would nothing named for anyone who did anything before 1990.  That can’t be either.  Wake me when this brouhaha is over.  Either way, there will be losers.  I suppose if someone held a gun to my head, I would have to vote for staying with the status quo.  What is the criteria for stripping away a name from a school?


20 Thoughts to “Attempt to strip Byrd name from middle school”

  1. BSinVA

    Let’s remember that Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Tyler, Polk and Taylor all owned slaves.

    1. Grant did also.

      Not sure there would be many left standing if we start stripping away honorary names. Then we would have to also throw out those with indentured servants. I am not sure those railroad tycoons who brought in all those Chinese workers for the railroads should get a pass either. Many of them were shanghaied.

  2. Cargosquid

    Since my daughter went to that school, and there has been no demand in the years that I’ve lived around the corner from it….by anyone….other than this petition… no.

    Use the name as teaching moment.

    History is history. He was a major political player in Virginia.

    1. I think I am going to agree with you on this one.

      I can’t think of a situation where I would want to un-honor a person.

  3. Starryflights

    I think we can find a better name for this school

    1. Usually schools are dedicated and named for the honoree. This school was dedicated in 1971. I don’t know how you undedicated. Secondly, he was elected by the majority of Virginians.

      Like I said, its a tough call. Do we just undo things as political times change?

  4. Wolve

    If “they” can change the name of Byrd Stadium to Maryland Stadium, as the UMD Board of Regents did recently, “they” will change anything. Staunch segregationist and former UMD President Curly Byrd built the place, along with Cole Field House.

    1. I agree, Wolve. Mr.. Howler is furious about it. He said they also didn’t let the alumni know. It was a rush decision.

      If your name was or is Byrd, you are toast. None of these men are related.

      My hypothesis is, everyone was a segregationist, back in the day.

  5. Wolve

    Bye bye to Harry Byrd Highway (Rte 7)?

    1. There is another one off the first exit off 81 from 66…Robert Byrd highway. Its going to be rough on Byrds.

  6. Starryflights

    Why not just call it Route 7? If we want to use animal names, how about “bird” instead of “Byrd?” Byrd was an animal

  7. Jackson Bills

    This reminds me of the fragile little snowflakes at a small college wanting to rename a building on campus because its name ‘Lynch Memorial Hall’ has the word ‘Lynch’ in it and that contains ‘racial overtones’:

    These are today’s young Democrats who have been taught that everything they experience in life is some sort of micro aggression. If you think that its bad now just want until these young liberals start getting elected into office on both a local and national level.

    1. I might have agreed with you except…you had to go and pin labels on them. Democrat, Liberal, …how about college student? That actually makes me sick.

      Where have you been? That’s what many college kids do. They are altruistic and think. Someone out to tell them to start with a list of demands that include no rise in student costs and fees, better mental health care facilities on campus, more student work opportunities and some provision that the faculty cut back 25% on text book costs by selecting texts that aren’t as expensive.

      You don’t know what political party they belong to or even if they belong to a party.

      Now over the issue–they are being stupid. What if his name had been Clyde Butcher? I would tell them to shove their demands.

  8. Jackson Bills

    Bet you a dollar that if they were ask a majority would identify as Democrat and voted for President Obama in the last election (if they were old enough).

    1. They probably weren’t old enough. I think probably most young people voted for Obama…meaning a majority. Check the demographics. That doesn’t make them democrats. I just don’t like your labels. Actually, the party has nothing to do with the issue. Naming buildings, clubs, teams etc are under great scrutiny nowadays, whether its Byrd Stadium or the Redskins. Trying to blame it on Democrats or Republics is neither here nor there and detracts from the big picture.

  9. middleman

    The point being missed here is that the school was named in 1971, not 1951. There’s a reason the school was named for a segregationist in the middle of the fight for civil rights. It was a clear sign that some Virginians were still not “over it.” Same reason that the Confederate flag had a resurgence during the Civil rights years of the 60’s.

    1. By 1971, it was a done deal. Byrd was in office for about 50 years. I was going to suggest that they were waiting for him to die.

    2. He was fairly revered. He was sort of the grandfather of pay as you go road systems in Virginia. He was a Virginia statesman and then he went to Congress.

      Considering where the school is, I would doubt it was directly tied to segregation. On the other hand, what do I know.

      Mills Godwin spoke at my high school graduation.

  10. Cargosquid

    We also have Godwin High right down the road from Bryd Middle.

    1. Ha. Keeping all the old seggies close. That’s just how things were back then. Lynwood (sp) Holton was really the first signs of change, as I recall. he was also the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. He is also Tim Kaine’s father in law. Go figure.

      I am sure there are those who would disagree with my version of Virginia history.

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