Desmond Tutu, who headed the Truth & Reconciliation Commission following apartheid in South Africa (which spanned from 1948 to 1991), said: “If we are going to move on and build a new kind of world community there must be a way in which we can deal with a sordid past. The most effective way would be for the perpetrators or their descendants to acknowledge the awfulness of what happened and the descendants of the victims to respond by granting forgiveness, providing something can be done, even symbolically, to compensate for the anguish experienced, whose consequences are still being lived through today. It may be, for instance, that race relations in the United States will not improve significantly until Native Americans and African Americans get the opportunity to tell their stories and reveal the pain that sits in the pit of their stomachs as a baneful legacy of dispossession and slavery. We saw in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission how the act of telling one's story has a cathartic, healing effect.”
In 2020, the change of public school names from Stonewall Jackson and Ashby-Lee to Mountain View and Honey Run was such a symbolic decision; because, all three of the last names incorporated in these schools (chosen during or right after the Civil Rights time period) were ultimately derived from the names of Confederate leaders that fought in a Civil War to uphold the right to a new country, with slavery as its economic base, separate from The United States of America.
When I heard about the previous school board's decision to consider changing the names in June 2020, one of the very first things I did was to call my African American friends that still lived in Shenandoah County, Va, to ask their perspectives on such a decision. Every single one of them wanted the same thing: new names. Public School names that represented them, too. Whether or not you agree, at the base of this issue is one thing: what message did it send to local African Americans and Indigenous Peoples, whose ancestors were enslaved during and before the Civil War, to have the names of people who fought for the continued enslavement of their families on public school buildings they were required by law to attend?
The decision to make sure public school names are inclusive and representative of everyone in a community falls on the leaders of that community. Such decisions may not be popular, especially when justice is ignored for sixty years as it was in Shenandoah County, Va, but they must be just for everyone within a community.
As Henri Nouwen wrote, "Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own." Mountain View and Honey Run are not divisive or offensive school names. They aim to include and to represent all, not just some. What message would it send to revert to the previous Confederate-leader-based names in another year?
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over seven years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.