NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Some schools in Norfolk may be looking at a name change in the near future.
Maury High School in the Ghent section of Norfolk was named in 1910 for Confederate Naval Cmdr. Matthew Fontaine Maury. During that same period, other schools were named for figures with a Confederate past. Taylor Elementary school in West Ghent was named for Walter Herron Taylor who was Robert E. Lee’s aid. Ruffer Academy Middle School, just outside downtown, is named for slave owner William Henry Ruffner who was the architect of state-mandated segregated schools in Virginia.
On the streets of Norfolk, some say the time for change is now.
“I think the whole country needs to just reconsider a lot of the things, whether it comes down to maple syrup or pancake mix or statues,” said attorney Eric Korslund.
Last week, the city’s first black mayor removed the Johnny Reb Confederate monument.
School Board Chairwoman Dr. Noelle Gabriel, a Granby High School graduate, says she recently learned about the history behind the names.
“I started looking at the names and I can definitely see once you look back into some of the history how some individuals might feel that that’s offensive,” said Gabriel.
Fellow board member Rodney Jordan is calling for name changes.
“Speaking as an individual board member, I want the names down and the history memorialized. More importantly, I want the segregationist policies and practices we maintain to come down too so investment in more proudly diverse, strong academic learning environments may go up,” said Jordan.
Next month in the school board’s governance meeting, the panel will consider whether to change the names Maury, Taylor, and Ruffner. If there’s a consensus to change the names, then the public will have an opportunity to weigh in.
“Obviously, we would need to have some robust conversations with the community and alumni. I think that if we do a thorough and appropriate process, we can at least come to a conclusion or a decision,” said Gabriel
Maury High School rising senior Chaniayah Williams has a different take on the name issue. She says if leaders want to make a difference at her school, they should bring in more training for trades, improve food service, and improve security.
“It’s just a name in life — it [a name change] doesn’t really change anything,” said Williams.
Gabriel says if the names are changed, the board will probably follow the lead of other cities that have replaced Confederate names with names that reference a geographical location.