Hanover NAACP Sues County to Change Names of Local Schools Glorifying the Confederacy

For decades, students in Hanover County, Virginia have been forced to attend schools bearing the names of Confederate leaders. References to the Confederacy permeate the entire school experience. School team names identify them with the Confederacy; Lee-Davis is home to the “Confederates” and Stonewall Jackson to the “Rebels”. The image of Confederate generals appear on banners at school events and graduation.  The schools’ mottos evince support for the Confederacy. In these ways and others, all students at those schools are forced to glorify the Confederacy and its leadership, which are inextricably intertwined with the history of slavery in America and today are used as symbols of racial oppression.

Students and alumni of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School, along with their families and community, have been urging the Hanover County School Board to change the names for decades. They renewed their request in the wake of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville two years ago. At every turn, the School Board has refused to change these symbols of racial injustice.  Today, the Hanover County Unit of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is suing the County and the School Board to change the names, change the school team names and take other steps to address a climate that denies African American students an equal education.

Robert Barnette, Chapter President of the Hanover NAACP, says: “The School Board’s decision to maintain school names when knowing that they cause harm signals that African American students and families are not valued as members of our school communities.”

Hanover adopted these pro-Confederacy names during Virginia’s Massive Resistance to desegregation, in order to send a clear message that Hanover County opposed integration and that African American students were not welcome in Hanover County public schools. In spite of powerful testimony from students, alumni, and community members about the trauma that the school names cause, especially in the wake of the violent protests in Charlottesville, the School Board voted just one year ago to maintain the names and to continue forcing African American students to champion a legacy of segregation and oppression in school.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Covington & Burling LLP represent the Hanover County Unit of the NAACP and its members in this case.

Jonathan Smith, Executive Director of the Washington Lawyers Committee, says: “Every student has a right to an education free from discrimination. Students in these two schools must daily attend a school that honors generals who fought a war to keep African Americans in bondage and their dishonorable cause.  The School Board’s decision to sustain the names and imagery creates a school environment that denies students of color in Hanover County an equal opportunity to an education.”

Jason Raofield, Partner at Covington & Burling, says: “Hanover County is spending taxpayer funds on litigation to preserve its ability to force African-American students to literally label themselves ‘Rebels’ and ‘Confederates’ in order to participate in school activities and sports. Let that sink in. This not a case about ‘heritage,’ it is a case about protecting children.”

To read the complaint, click here.

To read the one pager, click here.

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Contacts:

Jason Raofield, Covington & Burling
jraofield@cov.com
202-662-5072

Nina Herth, Washington Lawyers’ Committee
Nina_Herth@washlaw.org
202-319-1000 ext. 104

About Covington & Burling:

Covington & Burling is a preeminent international law firm with over 1,000 attorneys and legal professionals serving clients in major centers of business, finance, technology and government. The firm has offices in Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai and Washington, DC, and has consistently been recognized for its leading practices in many areas, helping clients to navigate issues at the intersection of law and policy around the world. Covington is committed to providing legal services to economically disadvantaged individuals and families. While many of Covington’s pro bono efforts are anchored in meeting important needs within its local communities, the firm also has a long history of serving clients and causes across the country on important civil rights matters, including juvenile justice, mental health, government-sanctioned discrimination and wrongful conviction matters.

About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs:

Founded in 1968, The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs works to create legal, economic and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While we fight discrimination against all people, we recognize the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combatting and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org or call 202.319.1000. Follow us on Twitter at @WashLaw4CR.

From left to right- Robert Barnette, Hanover NAACP President; Azadeh Erfani, of WLC; Cyril Djoukeng, of Covington and Burling
From left to right: Robert Barnette, Hanover NAACP President; Azadeh Erfani, Associate Counsel of WLC; Cyril Djoukeng, Associate of Covington and Burling

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