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Byrd Middle School to get name change

Joey Matthews | 3/17/2016, 8:26 p.m.
Jordan Chapman wore a broad smile. Her mother, Amy, wiped away tears of joy. And the people around them applauded. ...
Ms. Chapman, Ms. Montague

Jordan Chapman wore a broad smile. Her mother, Amy, wiped away tears of joy. And the people around them applauded.

Their happy reaction came after the Henrico School Board voted 5-0 to change the name of Harry F. Byrd Sr. Middle School at its March 10 work session at the New Bridge Learning Center.

“I’m just so happy and overjoyed that this happened,” said Jordan, a Hermitage High School senior.

“While all my other friends have been going out and doing things like playing soccer, I’ve been working on this the past six or seven months. This is so gratifying to me and the other people who worked so hard to help make this happen.”

The 17-year-old had plenty of community support for her petition drive to change the name of the middle school at 9400 Quioccasin Road. Her effort started in the fall after she learned in a class at Hermitage High of the racist campaign led by the late Mr. Byrd, a former Virginia governor and U.S. senator, to deny African-American children a public education as one of the chief architects of “Massive Resistance.”

The state-sanctioned policy was designed to skirt a ruling in 1954 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education to desegregate public schools to alleviate unequal educational resources. Massive Resistance led to the closure of some public schools in Virginia between 1958 and 1964 rather than allow African-American and white students to attend the same schools. While African-American students were denied an education, state funds were used to pay for white students to continue their education at all-white private schools.

Jordan’s campaign to remove Mr. Byrd’s name from the school drew backing from a diverse group of people who passionately voiced their objections to the school name at several Henrico board meetings and through emails, letters and phone calls to Henrico schools leaders. Few publicly dissented to the change.

Most of those who spoke at board meetings argued that it was hateful to have Mr. Byrd’s name on any public school. They said it was especially disrespectful to African-Americans, who comprise just more than 20 percent of the school’s total student population of 999.

The board’s history-changing, unanimous vote came at 4:10 p.m. March 10, after each board member cited his or her reason for supporting the name change.

The community has 30 days to recommend new names for the building. The Henrico School Board then intends to select a name, which will be in place at the start of the 2016-17 school year, the board said.

Board member the Rev. Roscoe Cooper III, who represents the Fairfield District, told the Free Press after he cast his vote, “It’s important we build a school system that is inclusive and representative of all races, religions and all of our community members.

“You’re talking about someone who was the architect of Massive Resistance and sought to exclude black children from getting an education,” he said of Mr. Byrd. “In 2016, there’s no place for someone like that to be honored with their name on a school.”