In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Henrico County School Board agreed to strip the name of the late Sen. Harry Flood Byrd Sr. from a middle school because of his opposition to desegregation.
No replacement name for Harry F. Byrd Middle School was offered at the meeting. Suggestions for a new name will be taken over the next 30 days as details are hammered out and presented to the School Board by its next meeting, on March 24.
Officials hope to have the name in place in time for the next academic year.
The vote came after a push from some residents and students, as well as two public meetings this month, on the school’s name. Over the summer, a campaign began to persuade the School Board to rename the school.
“It feels amazing, like all the work I put in just paid off and all the work the other parents have put into it, too,” said Jordan Chapman, a Hermitage High School student who created a petition for the name change.
Proponents of the change said a school with a 50 percent minority enrollment, 20 percent of which is black, should not be named for someone who railed against them receiving an education if that meant integrating schools.
Byrd, also a former Virginia governor, was among public officials who rejected the U.S. Supreme Court decision to end school segregation. Actions during Massive Resistance included shutting down schools that attempted to desegregate.
“While Harry F. Byrd is a name to be proud of in many respects, public education is not one of them,” board member Beverly L. Cocke said.
“This school has prospered in diversity, and it’s the diversity that Byrd fought,” School Board Chairwoman Michelle F. “Micky” Ogburn said. “No other school in Henrico is named after a person who believed in different schools for our children based on the color of their skin.”
Opponents say the movement is a politically correct attempt to erase history and changing the name would open the floodgates, leading to requests to rename remembrances of anyone whose stands are unpleasant by modern standards.
People in favor of keeping the name have noted Byrd’s accomplishments. He led the Virginia Democratic Party for more than 50 years, published what is now The Winchester Star and, as governor, promoted the state highway system.
“I recognize and appreciate that Harry F. Byrd contributed greatly to the commonwealth of Virginia,” said School Board member Lisa A. Marshall, whose district includes the school. “While I do not support the removal of Senator Byrd’s name from public roads, other structures, statues, et cetera, I do agree that his name in this time is not best placed on a public school in Henrico County.”
School Board members indicated they were not interested in renaming other schools, and agreed with this change because Byrd is considered the architect of Massive Resistance and apparently never renounced his views on desegregation.
At the opening of Byrd Middle in 1971, his son, Harry F. Byrd Jr., who who succeeded his father in the U.S. Senate, decried integration and was interrupted six times by applause for his comments against it.
Recently, school officials estimated it could cost $136,000 for new signs and other items if the name were changed. That figure includes more than $88,000 for athletics — uniforms, equipment bags and other materials.
Marshall suggested changing only what is immediately essential at first and asked school officials to provide a list of priorities.
Private donations to replace other items, such as “spirit gear” and athletic uniforms, will be accepted, she said.
As the board moved to strike Byrd’s name from the school, tears began to well up in the eyes of Chapman’s mother, Amy Chapman.
“I think she’s proud of me,” Chapman said.