Consolidation of schools reached its peak in Shenandoah County, Virginia, in 1958. The School Board had spent years planning and engaging in heated debate with the Board of Supervisors over their consolidation efforts, especially in regards to the six high schools that served the county at that time. In the end, the School Board decided to build three new high schools to serve its white students: one in the northern part of the county, another centrally-located, and a third in the southern part. School board minutes clearly show these three high schools were meant to serve only the white race (Shenandoah County School Board minutes, 23 May 1958). Meanwhile, African American students continued to be rerouted out of county for an education, with their school consolidation efforts continuously tabled or prolonged (see Week 44: An Out-of-Area Education).
To recognize the impact of integration and consolidation on our school system, we have to turn to the local papers. Following the Brown vs. Board decision, at a School Board meeting, these leaders "declined to take any action on the matter of school segregation. They took the position that the State Board of Education should indicate its position in the matter first... Delegate from Shenandoah County, who is a member of Governor Thomas B. Stanley's segregation study commission, had asked for some expression from the School Board" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 72, Number 235, 5 October 1954 p.2).
At a 1955 school board meeting, "a letter was read from Governor Stanley to the effect that public schools in the State would continue on the segregated basis during the coming school year. In this connection, Mr. Hilton informed the Board that Shenandoah County has about 100 colored school children. The largest number are in Strasburg; Woodstock, next; and then New Market and Mt. Jackson. There are none in Edinburg or Toms Brook. There would be not over two to three Negro school children in any one grade, were they to be assimilated into the white class rooms of the county, he added" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 73, Number 155, 2 July 1955, p. 5).
Hilton was the then SCPS superintendent of schools and would become the Pupil Placement Board's executive secretary. He addressed the Board of Supervisors a year later, during a peak conversation in financing the three high schools by noting: "we are spending $9,000 in tuition and $2,000 in bus expense to send 32 Negro students to school in Winchester and Harrisonburg. Should that expense be eliminated? And what would be recommended by the Board of Supervisors as to where they should be sent to school? Most of them live in Strasburg, a few in Woodstock, New Market and Mt. Jackson. That is a policy matter, especially in view of the position taken by the State on integration..." (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 74, Number 101, 28 April 1956, p.7).
In February 1957, the Shenandoah County Education Association filed a petition with the SCPS school board for a pay increase and confirmation "that this salary would be paid 'whether the schools be in session or closed for any reason.' This latter phase was thought to be a request for a guarantee that the teachers would be paid even if the county should resort to the extreme steps possible under the state's anti-integration program and close the public schools" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 75, Number 30, 5 February 1957, p.7), which was certainly the case in Warren County Public Schools the following year (see Week 45: Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South). As reported in a local newspaper, Governor "Almond asked for legislative help... by proposing... A new law empowering the governor to close any school patrolled by federal troops, as an added measure of protection against any possible 'Little Rock' incident in Virginia" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 76, Number 10, 13 January 1958, p.1). More specifically, this is in reference to the nine African American students that enrolled in Central High School of Little Rock, Arkansas in September 1957 as a test of Brown v. Board. The Arkansas governor had attempted to block the students' entrance to the all-white high school. Weeks later, then US president Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort the students into CHS. It's important to note that their testimonies of harassment were similarly experienced by African Americans across the country - those that were the first to integrate the all-white schools in their communities. And instead of recognizing the challenges, even in the 1950s, of this moment in history, and trying to promote peaceful community spaces, our 1958 School Board decided, as we are about to see, to make a political statement aligning with the Virginia state position of continuing segregation at that time and privileging the Confederate narrative, which had a lifeline rooted in proclaiming the inferiority of the African American race.
The estimated cost for the three new high schools was $2,300,000 (Shenandoah County School Board minutes, 12 March 1956). To meet some of this expenditure outside of increased taxation, the School Board allocated $491,878.75 from the Battle Fund and $39,000 from a County Capital Outlay Fund. John Battle had been the 56th governor of Virginia from 1950-54. During his administration, Virginia's General Assembly had given funds to Virginia school boards to "eliminate inequalities between the races" (Dorothy E. Davis, Bertha M. Davis and Inez D. Davis, etc., et al., Appellants v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Va, et al. US 191 (1952), p. 20). The Battle Fund was intended to help fund schools for African American and White students in each school district - making sure facilities were equal and Virginia schools were safe from potential lawsuits; however, the Shenandoah County School Board used all of the funds solely to benefit what their minutes show as the White race (Shenandoah County School Board minutes, 10 May 1954, 7 January 1955, 9 April 1956, 23 May 1958). One local paper shares the School Board's resolution for use of the funds: "Authorize an application for 'The Battle Fund' grant of $492,000.00 to be applied in financing the school construction plan to provide essentially equal curriculum in the schools of Shenandoah County" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 74, Number 138, 12 June 1956, p.7). The problem here is that "equal curriculum" did not mean equal among the races. SCPS had no intention in 1956 of including African Americans in the three new high schools they were building; therefore, these funds were misused not to equalize curriculum among the races, but among the white students allowed to attend these schools in 1959.
Another part of the funding came from taxation. The night before a county-wide vote on a 1956 bond referendum, which would support local education, then School Board chair wrote to the citizens of the county, encouraging support of the bond because "doing so will make possible much better educational opportunities for your children, and for those to come," with focus on providing "adequate and equal curricula, space, facilities and instruction for every child in this County" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 74, Number 214, 11 September 1956, p.5). The problem with this letter is the fact that the three high school plan did not provide equal anything for African American and Hispanic children, who were still being diverted out of county as late as 1963 - and those high schools were what the taxed funds were for. The chair's letter does make an important point, though: "What chance has any child in our modern complex society without at least a good fundamental high school education? What chance for survival has a Democracy which does not offer the opportunity for achievement and leadership only an education can make possible? Who, among us adults... wants it placed upon his conscience that he has undertaken to deny any child the chance to take its rightful place in society because of his personal dislike for or bickering with a fellow adult or area of our county? Let's think of our children and forget ourselves insofar at least as opportunity for them is the important - and the only real consideration" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 74, Number 214, 11 September 1956, p.5).
After a two-month delay in naming these new schools (Shenandoah County School Board minutes, 10 November 1958), Strasburg and Central High Schools were named after the town and the region in which the schools were built. Strasburg High School and its mascot, Rams, were already being used by one of the six high schools in Shenandoah County at the time; therefore, it was a continuation of an established name and mascot. Central High School had been referred to as centrally-located throughout School Board minutes. While the mascot was not mentioned in school minutes, use of Falcons (as noted in newspapers in 1959) followed the tradition set in place by SHS in selecting an innocuous animal to represent the school. These school choices were a-political and can bring together communities of diverse backgrounds. However, the southern campus school, which pulled together Mt Jackson and New Market students, was treated differently. It was named Stonewall Jackson High School (Shenandoah County School Board minutes, 12 January 1959), by the very chairman that highlighted the importance of providing an equal education for all the county's students. And the mascot chosen was Generals, but not just any general: a Confederate general, who rode a horse and carried a Confederate flag - an emblem that remained on the high school for decades: openly, promoting Lost Cause narrative, visually, and confusing generations of students by not addressing the incongruence to promoting patriotism toward the United States of America.
This original school name decision occurred in the turmoil of national and state-wide news that highlighted the need by many civic groups and governments for taking a stand and supporting segregation, particularly in education and in light of the controversially-received Brown v. Board decision that was paving the way for integration of schools. It occurred in the emotional rigor of Virginia legislature starting the process of plans for a Civil War Centennial celebration across the state. And it occurred only one week before the national holiday, Lee-Jackson Day - something celebrated in Virginia until 2020.
To highlight the prevailing ideals at the time: one week following the 1958 school name decision, the local newspaper reported an address given by Maj. Bushong Jr. at a Front Royal celebration of Lee-Jackson-Maury birthdays: "The attributes that carried them through the turmoils of their day, if applied by the leaders of today, should bring triumph also, the speaker claimed... attribut(ing) the success and greatness of Gen. Robert E. Lee, 'Stonewall' Jackson, and Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury, all Virginians, to two noble characteristics that marked their lives. 'Their abiding faith in the Supreme Being and an unswerving devotion and loyalty to duty,' if applied by the leaders of today, Maj. Bushong asserted, 'is the answer to our problems - whether integration or sputniks.' The speaker also lamented the fact that radio and television stations are bowing to the orders of the 'National Association for the Agitation of Colored People' and are changing the folk songs of the nation in removing all references to the word Negro... because of a 'loud mouthed minority trying to override the majority'" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 76, Number 17, 21 January 1958, p.3).
In the fall of 1958, before the high school was named and as earthmovers were beginning work on preparing the foundation of the southern campus high school, members of the community were celebrating the occasion by holding a Confederate war flag over the construction site (see Week 15: The First Annual); an act that seemed to mimic the pride of the Ku Klux Klan that had met in 1925 in the caverns under the field that would one day house Stonewall Jackson High School (see Week 41: Self-Preservation). Instead of creating a public school that promoted a respectful environment that embraced the diversity of those who attended, it privileged and celebrated pro-Confederacy heritage.
Stonewall Jackson High School was dedicated on April 24, 1960 (Shenandoah County School Board minutes, 9 November 1959), with Virgil Carrington Jones, a member of the Civil War Centennial Commission, chosen as the guest speaker (Shenandoah County School Board minutes, 14 March 1960). Jones was also a speaker at Massanutten Military Academy's 61st commencement. During that ceremony, "Mr. Jones reminded his listeners that he too had gone to school in the Shenandoah Valley. He indicated that he had always been attracted to Civil War lore, and therefore wanted to pay tribute to the soldiers of the 'Lost Cause.' He mentioned the great field commander, General Thomas Jonathan ('Stonewall') Jackson, and indicated that this famous Confederate leader had put iron in the hearts of his men and was able to drive them almost beyond human endurance... He told them to look to stars like the heroes of the South who passed through this very area, and to contribute their part to the building of our country by fidelity to those principles which they thought right" (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol. 75, No. 129, 1 June 1960, p.6). The newspaper doesn't mention whether or not Jones reminded students that Confederate generals were ultimately traitors to their country, the United States of America, nor that generals in the United States army also passed through this very area and also fought bravely and with the fortitude of restoring our fractured country and promoting true equality for all people, including the enslaved African Americans that the Confederacy fought to keep enslaved.
It's important to recognize that Stonewall Jackson High School was named in the whirlwind of promoting Confederate ideals in Virginia and in Shenandoah County. Not only was this part of Virginia's General Assembly, particularly due to the Brown vs. Board decision, but it was also part of the Pupil Placement Board, whose very purpose was to continue separation of the races in our school systems as dictated by the state constitution (see Week 46: Brown v. Board, Week 47: Maintaining Public Peace, and Week 48: Not One Positive Step). We will look again to those minutes next week; however, there is one more aspect that really needs to be spotlighted again. And that is the mascot.
Shenandoah County, Virginia, has a history inflamed by pro-Confederacy propaganda that was blatantly pushed upon our youth, rather than the integration of true peace that our country so desperately needed then and needs now. In the 21st century, it is intolerable for a public school to choose to only honor Generals that were part of the Confederacy - namely Jackson, Ashby, and Lee - over Grant, Meade, and even Sheridan, whose burning of the Valley happened because some of our county's ancestors attacked the very heart of our country today - our capital, Washington D.C, on July 5, 1864 - or even generals that came after this time period. Generals that served the United States of America deserve more honor from our citizens than generals that took up arms against our country and even attacked our country's capital in 1864! Every Veteran should feel affronted by such a slight. Ignoring these truths and our county's history of oppression, indifference, and hatred toward African Americans and minority groups by choosing to honor only Confederate Generals is not a claim of heritage, it is an indoctrination of hatred, white supremacy, and injustice against our children and against a peaceful future together. We have a moral obligation to claim positive community identities in our public spaces, especially for our public schools and especially for our precious, innocent children. When we know better, we do better.
The previous board did not join the school board with a political agenda - they rose to a challenge in our country and in our community, choosing compassion and inclusion over popularity and majority. The previous board made a decision to compromise by keeping the Generals mascot so well-loved by many in the community. This was a respectful act of peace.
I'm going to be candid, because that is all I know to be - although I recognize the wisdom behind this vote, I didn't agree with the decision to keep the Generals mascot. As a female alumna that graduated from Stonewall Jackson, I was never comfortable with the pro-Confederacy, pro-masculinity, and pro-war message that I was representing with that school name and with that mascot. But I didn't know better - everyone, even my Sunday School teacher, was promoting the War of Northern Aggression or telling about the burning of the Valley or the heroic, faith-infused efforts of Confederate Generals. Lost cause narrative was thick in our community and has been since the start of the Civil War. It is time to move on from the Civil War - to act like a community that solves problems together rather than argues over whether or not a white man that died 150 years ago is affronted by no longer having his name on a school building, jersey, or helmet - especially when there are living people with tangible heartbeats in Shenandoah County right now whose own ancestors our Confederate ancestors enslaved or fought to keep enslaved. When we know better, we do better.
But even more than this, I don't like the name Generals because I want our students to aim for exceptional, not just standard. Among the definitions that Merriam-Webster gives the term general are "common to many, not special, not specific or in detail." Our community deserves to be more than just standard - let's set our minds and hearts on what's exceptional. And, let's truly be "involving, applying to, or affecting the whole, not partial" when it comes to our public school. The core of that is cultivating community. It takes intention and commitment to do this. Choosing to return the school names to the oppression of Confederate Generals, yet again, doesn't foment peace. It plays the same message that the KKK did meeting in caverns below the southern campus schools; the UDC did in erecting a monument they claimed promoted peace but only honors Confederate soldiers, while a slave cemetery on the other side of the tracks from that monument was neglected; and the school board in 1958 did when they chose a Confederate general for a school name while forcing African American high school students, who were as native to our county as their White counterparts then, to go elsewhere for an education. When we know better, we do better.
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 eight 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.
52 / Remembering & Moving On
51 / Integration & Teachers
50 / In Our Own Community
49 / S J H S
48 / Not One Positive Step
47 / Maintaining Public Peace
46 / Brown v. Board
45 / Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South
44 / An Out-of-area Education
43 / Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?
42 / Education Without Heart
41 / Self-Preservation
40 / Free Public Schools
39 / The Mask of Defiance
38 / The Golden Door of Freedom
37 / Prejudicial to our Race
36 / Are We Compassionate?
35 / Community
34 / Need for Radical Change
33 / Bitter Prejudice
32 / Fear of 'Negro Equality'
31 / Rachel, Lashed to Death
30 / The Whim of the Court: A Look at Jacob, Stacy, Lett; March & Peter; Jeffrey & Peter
29 / Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, & two men from the furnace
28 / The Loss of Fortune
27 / James Scott, A Free Man
26 / The Unremembered, The Unheard
25 / The American Cause
24 / Tithables for the County & Parish
23 / Satisfactory Proof of Being Free
22 / Building Community Takes Trust
21 / Jacob's Case
20 / Whose Control?
19 / Racial Classifications
18 / The Cost of Freedom in 1840
17 / Sale of Children
16 / Bequeathal of Future Increase
15 / The First Annual
14 / From a Descendant of a CSA Soldier
13 / True Americanism
12 / Slavery. A Hot Topic.
11 / Real Character
10 / Real Apologies
9 / Freedom from Fear
8 / 250 Years
7 / The Courage of Christ
6 / Whose Narratives?
5 / The 13th Amendment
4 / Symbolic Act of Justice
3 / Giving Thanks
2 / Confederate Congress
1 / Veteran's Day