By Ronald E. Carrington
Special from the Richmond Free Press
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Barack Obama in. J.E.B. Stuart out. The Richmond School Board voted this month to change the name of J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School to Barack Obama Elementary School.The new name for the school at 3101 Fendall Ave. in North Side Richmond should be in place by August for the new school year, officials said. “Students will now have the opportunity to attend a school that honors a leader who represents the great promise of America,” said Superintendent Jason Kamras.
“In the former capital of the Confederacy, we decided to stop honoring an individual who fought to preserve slavery and to begin honoring our first African-American president instead.”
Roughly 18 schools in 14 states have either been named for former President Obama or are proposed to be named for him.
Among them is Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary in St. Paul, Minn., and Barack and Michelle Obama Academy in Atlanta, both of which are public schools. The change ends six months of debate in the region about changing the names of schools named for Confederates. In February, the Petersburg School Board voted to rename three elementary schools, while the Hanover County School Board in April voted to retain the names of a high school and middle school named for Confederates.
In Richmond, the only school named for a Confederate was J.E.B. Stuart, which was opened in 1922. It serves nearly 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. About 95 percent of the students are African-American.Board member Kenya Gibson, 3rd District, voted against the name change, saying she wanted the vote delayed so the board could consider other names.
“There’s no local person on the finalist list,” Gibson said. “This is Richmond. We are about history and we have so many great local stories to tell. Our local stories are so important to cherish.” Absent from the meeting were board members Jonathan Young, 4th District, and Dr. Patrick Sapini, 5th District. After signaling its desire to rename the North Side school, the School Board held several community meetings to get recommendations.
The list of 38 recommendations was narrowed to seven names, which were presented to students at the school for a vote earlier this month.They were Barbara Johns Elementary for the 16-year-old who led a student strike at her Farmville high school in 1951 that led to the desegregation of public schools; Oliver W. Hill Sr. Elementary for the late Richmond civil rights attorney who led Ms. Johns’ legal case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court; Albert V. Norrell Elementary for the longtime Richmond educator; Henry L. Marsh III Elementary for Richmond’s first African-American mayor, former state senator and noted civil rights attorney; Northside Elementary for the school’s location; Wishtree Elementary for the children’s book that celebrates different cultures in a diverse neighborhood; and Barack Obama Elementary. Among students, Northside Elementary was the leading vote-getter with 190 votes, while Obama Elementary won 166 votes and Wishtree, 127 votes.
The three top names then were sent to the School Board for the final selection. Kamras told the board he recommended the school be named after former President Obama. Kamras, who was named the 2005 National Teacher of the Year, served as an adviser on education issues to the former president’s 2008 campaign. RPS officials estimated that the renaming will cost $26,000, which includes $10,000 for the new name to be put on the school’s stone façade; $4,000 for a bronze plaque; $5,000 for a new sign outside the school and a new marquee; $4,500 for new mats, stationery and office supplies; $2,000 for T-shirts with the new name for students and staff; and $500 for a banner.