Changing Names, Changing History

This school showed the power of a simple name change when confronting a racist legacy.

   Eric Pfeiffer

The last public building in Virginia’s capital with a Confederate name is getting a makeover. Thanks, Obama.

On June 18, the Richmond School District voted 6-1 to change the name of J.E.B Stuart Elementary to Barack Obama Elementary.

Why does that matter?

Stuart was a U.S. Army officer who switched sides to join the Confederacy during the Civil War and became one of the South’s top military strategists. Richmond school officials wanted to let go of inappropriately honoring a pro-slavery leader, and do so in a way that built bridges in the community.

“It’s incredibly powerful that in the capital of the Confederacy, where we had a school named for an individual who fought to maintain slavery, that now we’re renaming that school after the first black president,” Richmond Public School Superintendent Jason Kamras said. “A lot of our kids, and our kids at J.E.B. Stuart, see themselves in Barack Obama.”

The elementary school body is 95% African-American and a number of school leaders suggested swapping out Stuart’s name for Obama’s, echoing a similar move at a Mississippi elementary school in 2017.Read more here.