By Ali Sullivan
The final meeting lasted just a few minutes.
After months of investigation, an advisory committee determined that Paul H. Cale Elementary School—named after a former Albemarle County Public Schools superintendent—should change its name.
The recommendation comes nearly four months after the Cale Advisory Committee’s first meeting and almost a year since Lorenzo Dickerson, web and social media specialist for Albemarle County schools, uncovered a 1956 article in Commentary Magazine that set the process in motion.
Commenting on the possibility of integration in county schools, the article quotes Cale as saying, “What did the Negroes expect to happen next? What did they want?” The piece then paraphrases Cale’s other remarks, which were critical of integration.
In its research, the committee found no evidence that Commentary Magazine ever retracted or corrected these statements.
Dickerson, who’s also a local historian and filmmaker, included Cale’s comments as part of a presentation titled History of the Present, which he delivered to Western Albemarle High School in October 2018. Dickerson estimates that he’s the first to delve deeply into the county’s history of desegregation.
“We know a lot about the City of Charlottesville with the Charlottesville 12,” Dickerson said. “But the county itself hadn’t been researched a lot as far as desegregation.”
The name evaluation comes on the heels of protracted debate over whether to allow Confederate imagery in county schools—a months-long process that ended in February with Haas banning all symbols of white supremacy. Soon after the decision, the county school board unanimously adopted an antiracism policy, which in part guided the Cale committee’s research.
Throughout its investigation of Cale’s 22-year tenure as superintendent, the committee scrutinized meeting minutes and newspaper archives; it interviewed former students, teachers, and administrators, and gathered public input. Dennis Rooker, chair of the committee and a former member of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, estimates the committee reviewed 300 pages of written materials alongside the public hearings, which were largely attended by Cale’s supporters.
“Any time you have a public hearing, the people that are generally going to show up are the ones that have a personal interest,” Rooker said.
Rooker added that the committee balanced the loud input from Cale’s friends and family with written comments in favor of a name change, as well as interviews with black former Albemarle students who experienced the integration process firsthand.
Paul Cale Jr., Cale Sr.’s son, expressed concern that the committee’s method lacked objectivity—that it was only seeking to confirm that Cale Sr. intentionally slowed integration.
“If you’re doing research, you should not just be trying to find negative things,” Cale Jr. said. “You should be trying to find positive things.”
Beyond the Commentary article, the committee found no evidence that Cale spoke publicly against integration. Under his purview, however, county schools didn’t integrate until 14 years after Brown v. Board of Education.
“Somebody had their foot on the brake,” Rooker said.
Although he laments that the process became “a referendum on somebody’s character,” Rooker added that—regardless of Cale’s reputation—many associate his tenure with the period of opposition to integration known as massive resistance.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t want to make this a judgment about his character,” Rooker said. “We wanted to make it a judgment about what is the best name for the school going forward.”