A Richmond School Board Member On Renaming A School

Jun 23, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Richmond School Board voted this week to remove the name of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart from a local elementary school and rename it for Barack Obama. The vote was 6 to 1. Kenya Gibson was the one vote against and joins us now from the studios of WCBE in Richmond. Thanks very much for being with us.

KENYA GIBSON: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: So why did you vote against it?

GIBSON: You know, it's - I guess it's kind of surreal to think about. I'm a proud Democrat. Ultimately, I voted against the proposal because I felt a loss that we didn't consider any local folks as we were faced with voting for the name of the school.

SIMON: Did you have any local figures in Richmond history in mind?

GIBSON: Well, gosh, there's plenty of those. There are - a lot of names came to mind. We've got, you know, Oliver Hill, who lived in the north side. He's a well-known civil rights attorney. He fought for equal pay for black teachers. He ensured that black students had transportation to school. One that came to mind for me was Albert Norrell. He was actually one of the first African-American principals in Richmond. I think that was back in 1883 or something like that. And a school was actually named after him in 1950 just - not even a mile away from J.E.B. Stuart. And that elementary school is now closed. And so keeping the name alive has a certain poignance to it.

SIMON: So it sounds like you were thinking, bless him, President Obama will have schools and highways and airports all over the country named after him. This might be the one chance that people important in Richmond history have that honor.

GIBSON: The thing that's really special about Richmond is that this is a place about history. And so yes. I mean, to your point, there will be many opportunities to honor our former president. But I thought, you know, in this instance, I mean, this is a school. And so the students were actually charged with selecting a name. So when they narrowed it down to three, and there wasn't a local name among that list, to me, it kind of highlighted the fact that we had failed our students somehow, you know? - I mean, if they didn't appreciate some of the local stories - that, really, we as adults hadn't done our homework. And so I believe that just as we kind of teach kids that they can make a difference, we want to teach kids about other people that they could have known that made a difference.

SIMON: I wonder if it wasn't for the changes that some brave people in Richmond brought about - well, do you feel that they, in one way or another, contributed to history rotating to the point where Barack Obama was elected?

GIBSON: Oh, absolutely. One of the folks on our city council right now said very poignantly, you know, without an Oliver Hill, there wouldn't have been an Obama.

SIMON: Well, sounds like even Barack Obama might agree with a lot of what you say.

GIBSON: Gosh, I really hope so.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Kenya Gibson from Richmond, thanks so much for being with us.

GIBSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.