Rights group sues Virginia school district over Confederate names

By Thomson Reuters Jun 11, 2024 | 5:08 PM

By Tyler Clifford

(Reuters) – Virginia’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against a school district that restored the names of Confederate generals at two public schools.

The move by Shenandoah County Public School sends a message of “Black inferiority and subjugation,” the complaint filed by the NAACP chapter in the U.S. District Court in Virginia said.

The civil rights organization accuses the school board of violating the First and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.

In 2020, the school board was the first in the U.S. to agree to strip the names of Confederate generals – those of Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson and Turner Ashby – from schools. The board overturned that decision on May 10, again naming a high school after Jackson and drawing on the names of Ashby and Lee for an elementary school.

“My belief is the Shenandoah County School Board reaffirmed their commitment to White supremacy and the celebration of a race-based rebellion against the United States of America with their vote to name public schools after military leaders of the Confederate States of America,” Virginia NAACP President Rev. Cozy Bailey said in a statement.

Mountain View High School was again renamed Stonewall Jackson High, while Honey Run Elementary School was rechristened Ashby Lee Elementary. The state NAACP asked a judge to order the school board to remove the Confederate names and refrain from using references to the breakaway republic in the future.

The school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

Jackson, Ashby and Lee were Virginia residents and among the most notable military leaders of the Confederacy, which was made up of pro-slavery states in the South.

The Confederacy went to war with the U.S. in the Civil War of the 1860s. Lee was commander of the Army of Northern Virginia; Jackson was a Confederate infantry general; Ashby was a rebel cavalry commander.

Shenandoah County is a mostly white, heavily Republican region in the Shenandoah Valley, about 150 miles (240 km) northwest of Richmond, Virginia, which was the Confederate capital.

Black people represent less than 3% of the roughly 45,000 residents of the county, according to the 2020 Census.

(Reporting by Tyler Clifford in New York City; Editing by Stephen Coates)