Alumni of former Portsmouth school hope to revive their school name by renaming Wilson High

Portsmouth

PORSTMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — As Portsmouth considers possibly renaming some of its public schools, a group of alumni from a now-closed Portsmouth high school is hoping to revive the name of their school.

Manor High School was opened in 1972 as a result of public school integration. Jacque Kendall graduated from the school in 1977 and has fond memories of her time there.

“I was a cheerleader. I was in the band. You name it, we did it. At that time, Manor, being a new school, we established traditions as students. We didn’t have uniforms, the band. We had T-shirts, bucket hats, and jeans. We were able to be creative and that’s what we have now,” she said about an effort by alumni to bring the name back.

Earlier this week, the school district sent out a notice to staff and families about public hearings that will be held to possibly change the names of three schools: James Hurst Elementary School, John Tyler Elementary School, and Woodrow Wilson High School.

The district says following the death of George Floyd and social justice protests across the country, people reached out to them about changing the names.

Jacque Kendall (Courtesy photo)

James Hurst was the superintendent of schools for Norfolk County during the mid-20th century. John Tyler was a native Virginian who served as United States President and was a slave holder.

Woodrow Wilson was also a native Virginian and United States president. He has become a controversial figure due to his racist views on African Americans.

In the early 1990s, Woodrow Wilson High School, which was housed in an old building, merged with Manor High School in the Manor building.

Alumni of Wilson fought to keep its name.

“We were baffled about it because in 1972 when it was established, it was the school board’s answer to desegregation. Desegregation was the term at the time for integration,” Kendall said.

Because Manor was the result of integration and a step forward for society, Kendall doesn’t believe the school should continue to be named after Wilson.

“Right now with all the civil unrest and the attention that’s been brought toward Wilson, his ideology is not in line with what this school was built for,” she said. “It was for inclusion and diversity. That’s what we need right now with everything going on in my hometown. We need a glimmer of hope, you know? A symbol of unity. In 1972, this was a symbol of unity. How about now in 2020? We need that symbol back.”

Kendall says the idea to get alumni on board was ignited by a current teacher at Wilson, who had heard complaints from students.

Now, there are more than 4,200 signatures on a Change.org petition to rename Wilson to Manor and a Facebook group of 800 also actively working to bring back the name.

“We’re almost 5,000 strong of diverse people and they want this to happen. You know we got people that are wanting to do this. Listen, listen to us. I think this would be a very hopeful thing for the City of Portsmouth to happen at this time,” she said.

Kendall says a number of alumni from the school have gone on to do great things such as becoming Grammy winners, actors, actresses, doctors, and military service members.

She hopes the legacy can continue on and is urging people to not only vote in the upcoming election, but attend the public hearings on renaming the schools on Monday, Sept. 28 and Monday, Oct. 5.

The meetings will be held at Wilson High School starting at 6 p.m.

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