Portsmouth School Board votes to change name of 3 schools with ties to Confederacy, segregationists

Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Portsmouth School Board voted to change the names of three schools that carried the names of known segregationists and Confederate leaders.

Thursday night, the board voted 8-1 to change the names Woodrow Wilson High, James Hurst Elementary, and John Tyler Elementary School.

Beginning July 1, 2021 — Woodrow Wilson’s name will change to Manor High, James Hurst will change to Cradock Elementary, and John Tyler will change to Waterview Elementary.

The name change requests came after the death of George Floyd and calls for racial equality earlier this year. Several other area districts have made similar moves.

“It’s all about, you know, ‘righting the wrongs,'” said board member Lakeesha “Klu” Atkinson, who was part of a committee that studied the name issue.

The school district held two public hearings, where dozens of people spoke their thoughts on the proposal. The majority of the people were in favor of the proposed changes.

Former President Woodrow Wilson, a native Virginian, has become a controversial figure in recent years due to his segregationist views and praising the Confederacy in writings.

Former President John Tyler sided with the Confederacy and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death.

James Hurst, who served as Superintendent of Norfolk County Schools in the 1920s — much of which is modern-day Portsmouth, put forward budgets that funneled money to white schools over Black schools, according to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

In addition, thousands of people signed a petition to rename Wilson High, to Manor High. That was the school’s name in the 1970s when it opened after desegregation.

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, and won. Following the vote, several people took to Twitter in celebration.

“Manor coming back lol my pops gonna be happy,” said Eric L Black, Jr.

Concerns did arise about how it was going to all be paid for though. The superintendent estimates it could cost around $443,000 to rename all three schools.

Board member Sarah Hinds was concerned that the historically cash strapped district would not have enough money to complete the transformation all at once.

“I was a student at Manor when it changed to Wilson. And I lived through the piecemeal put together creating a new school. And I don’t want to have to put another class of students or two through this at this point,” Hinds said.

Board chair Claude Parent urged her to give the superintendent a chance to come back with a plan.

“(I) have upmost faith that Dr. (Elie) Bracy is going to make a recommendation that is within this board’s budget,” Parent said.

Outgoing board member Ted Lamb was the lone “no” vote on the proposal.

“We are in a COVID-19 pandemic. I just think $443,000 needs to be concentrated in the resources for students,” Lamb told 10 On Your Side. 

However, Atkinson, who is black and just months earlier was entangled in the city’s Confederate monument debacle, said money should even play a role in the decision.

“If we focused on costs and finances we still would be in slavery.”


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