Kanawha school board approves name change of Stonewall Jackson Middle School

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In an unanimous decision, members of the Kanawha County Board of Education voted to change the name of Stonewall Jackson Middle School on Monday.

The vote was 5-0 in front of a socially distanced but large crowd gathered both in the halls and outside of the board office on Elizabeth Street in Charleston.

Following 15 speakers voicing opinions on the move, each board member was given the chance to speak before the vote. Member Ryan White said he voted for the community he represents.

Ryan White

“I have heard from a lot of people in the community. Many people who have wanted to change the name and there have been some people who have not wanted to change the name,” he said.

“I can tell you that the vast majority of people that I have heard from about this issue have said they wanted the name change.”

Jackson, who was born in Clarksburg in 1824 when it was still part of Virginia, served as a Confederate general during the Civil War and owned slaves during his lifetime.  He joined the Confederacy after Virginia’s secession from the United States in 1861.

Jackson died on May 10, 1863, just more than a month before West Virginia officially became a state after seceding from Virginia.

According to the state Department of Education, the West Side school is 42% African American which is the highest proportion among public middle schools in West Virginia  That is compared to 4% of the state’s student population across all grade levels.

The school opened in 1940 as a high school but consolidated in 1989 with Charleston High School to form Capital High School. Board member Jim Crawford said the change should have been done then.

“It’s time we look at this. It should have been taken care of back when they consolidated Charleston High School and Stonewall. It should have never been Stonewall Middle School to begin with,” Crawford said.

A new name has not yet been selected but will be before October 15. Board member Ric Cavender detailed the process, which now goes back to the school officials, on Monday morning’s MetroNews ‘Talkline.’

“If it is going to be someone’s name, descendants still living to that person have to give approval. If they decide to go with a geographical name, for example, West Side Middle School, that’s easier because there are fewer folks to contact,” he said.

Petitions surfaced online over the past month including one with thousands of signatures to change the name to Katherine Johnson Middle School. Many of those people were gathered outside with signs supporting the change and chants of “Change The Name.”

Johnson, a black NASA mathematician and West Virginia State graduate, was instrumental in the early days of America’s space exploration efforts. Other potential names surfacing are Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson, Capital, and West Side Middle School.

New board president Becky Jordon, a Stonewall High School graduate, admitted she has been the most resistant to the change. She voted for it on Monday and said the board and community members must work to change needs on the inside of the school.

Becky Jordon

“Go to Mr. (John) Wilkerson and see what you can do,” she said. “The halls have changed at Stonewall. There are a lot more kids. Students in Stonewall and many schools others have mental illnesses, that are homeless, that are hungry, that cannot read. Let’s step up what is inside that building.

“Yeah, we are going to change what is on the outside of the building but we have a lot more changes to do.”

Superintendent Tom Williams, who took over last week, also supported the measure.

In the meeting, Jordon was elected the new president of the KCBOE. Tracy White was elected the new president pro tem.

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