The Richmond School Board voted Monday to rename a Confederate-named elementary school after former President Barack Obama, overriding a vote of the students, who preferred “Northside.”
A June 12 vote by students at J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School, which honors a Confederate general, found that 190 wanted to rename their school “Northside,” referring to the neighborhood, with 166 voting for “Barack Obama” and 127 for “Wishtree.”
Even so, the board voted 6-1 to rename the school after the nation’s first black president, capping a two-month drive to replace the Stuart name as public institutions across the South move to drop Confederate memorials, monikers and references.
Mr. Obama might have had the inside edge: Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras served as an educational adviser to the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.
A former administrator in the District of Columbia Public Schools who assumed the top Richmond job earlier this year, Mr. Kamras praised the board’s vote.
“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,” Mr. Kamras said in a statement.
“I’m thrilled that the students of J.E.B. Stuart — who recommended Barack Obama as one of their top choices for the new name — will now have the opportunity to attend a school that honors a leader who represents the great promise of America,” he said.
The original list of seven choices included the names of four local political and civil rights leaders, along with Northside, Barack Obama and Wishtree.
Even though Northside was the top student choice, the administration recommended honoring the former president,” and “the School Board, as it has consistently done since the new administration took over in February, approved the recommendation,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Board member Kenya Gibson, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said later that while Mr. Obama’s presidency “was incredible and deserves recognition,” so do the achievements of important Richmond figures.
“We have so many local leaders that deserve recognition: Albert Norrell, Oliver Hill, Henry Marsh, Barbara Grey, and so many others,” Ms. Gibson said in a Facebook post. “I am thrilled that we are renaming J.E.B. Stuart. Let this also be a lesson for us as adults — it is our responsibility to ensure our local heroes live on by teaching these stories to our children.”
About 95 percent of the students who attend the school are black, according to WTVR-TV in Richmond.
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