Board OKs name change for school with segregationist's name

AP News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2016 5:00 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia school division decided Thursday to remove a prominent segregationist's name from a school, saying students should not be educated in a building named after a man who sought to shutter schools rather than integrate them.

The Henrico County school board voted 5-0 to strip Harry F. Byrd's name from the suburban Richmond school following a petition drive and overwhelming public condemnation of the school's name. The decision was met with applause and hugs by proponents of the name change.

"I'm so proud and excited," said an elated Jordan Chapman, a 17-year-old senior who was among the leaders of the movement. "It definitely restores my faith in government."

The board said it would consider a new name for the school over the next 30 days. Many have recommended the names of Virginia civil rights leaders.

Byrd was a governor, U.S. senator and powerful political force in 20th century Virginia. He also helped lead efforts to keep the state's public schools separated by race after U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down racially segregated schools.

Some African-Americans who went to segregated, all-black schools because of Byrd's so-called Massive Resistance movement were among those who pushed for the name change.

But other people say Byrd was a positive force for Virginia in many other ways, and that removing his name amounts to erasing history.

In the South and elsewhere, once revered historic figures and symbols are being reconsidered over racial views now viewed as reprehensible. Statues celebrating the Confederacy are destined to come down in New Orleans and Confederate battle flags have been stripped from public places and license plates.

Byrd, who died in 1966, represents a much more contemporary figure. From the 1920s through the 1960s, his influence was apparent in virtually all public policy. The Democrat's dominance was known simply as the "Byrd Machine."

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