Another name change? Albemarle school board confronts racist past

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Before potentially renaming Cale Elementary School, Albemarle County School Board Chair Kate Acuff wants the superintendent to review the current policy on naming schools, and to examine the names of all schools in the division. Photo by Eze Amos Before potentially renaming Cale Elementary School, Albemarle County School Board Chair Kate Acuff wants the superintendent to review the current policy on naming schools, and to examine the names of all schools in the division. Photo by Eze Amos

“White parents would not permit their children to receive instruction from inferior Negro teachers—and they were inferior.”

These recently resurfaced words, which originally appeared in a July 1, 1956, article titled “Virginia’s Creeping Desegregation: Force of the Inevitable” in Commentary Magazine, were said by Dr. Paul Cale, the longest-serving Albemarle County schools superintendent, and the namesake of one of the county’s most diverse elementary schools.

And now that his racist murmurings have been brought to light, some school board members say celebrating the long-gone superintendent doesn’t sit well with them.

“The author writes of Dr. Cale’s agreement that two years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, integration was not practical in Albemarle County and if it were to be enforced, white parents would withdraw their children and stop paying taxes,” said school board chair Kate Acuff October 18 at the board’s most recent meeting. “This was the essential strategy of massive resistance, which was formally born in Virginia only months before this article appeared.”

In a motion that wasn’t on the meeting’s agenda, she called for superintendent Matt Haas to review the current policy on naming school buildings and to review the monikers of all schools in the division, including Cale Elementary School, within six months.

“We should not revere or celebrate these viewpoints nor preserve them in perpetuity in the names of public buildings,” Acuff said. “As this board often has said, in this school division, all should always mean all.”

Local filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson, who also serves as a web and social media specialist for county schools, says he dug up the Commentary article when creating a presentation for a professional development day for teachers and administrators at his alma mater, Western Albemarle High School. He showed his work to the school board at Acuff’s request.

Dickerson has also directed a film called Albemarle’s Black Classrooms, and focuses his work on telling stories of local African-American history. He’s spent years researching the themes in his name-change prompting presentation.

What surprised me the most was a photo of a black-faced minstrel show that was given at Albemarle High School during the 1962-63 school year,” he says. “I found this photo in the AHS yearbook from that year. It was displayed just as any other typical school play.”

These types of discussions aren’t new to Albemarle. The county school board has recently come under fire by anti-racist activists for its dress code, which allows Confederate imagery. These community members, some with the Anti-Hate Coalition of Albemarle County, considered the most recent meeting a “huge win,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

“I know that the members of this board will continue to struggle with these issues,” said David Oberg, one school board member who has publicly supported the ban on hate symbols in schools. “I hope that as we do, we will engage our entire community on not only the issue of Confederate imagery, but also the issues of systemic discrimination within our schools and within our community.”

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