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.
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?