Dozens speak out on whether to remove Confederate names from two Hampton schools

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – Dozens of community members made their voices heard before the Hampton School Board on Thursday, weighing in on whether members should remove the Confederate names from two schools.

The majority of speakers were in support of changing the names of Jefferson Davis Middle School and The Campus at Lee.

“The only public property those names deserve to be written on are the pages of our history books, that shows them as the vile, villainous scum that they were,” one Hampton resident said.

The hearing began at 6:30 p.m. inside the auditorium of the Benjamin Syms Middle School, and lasted roughly two hours. Parents, teachers and students all spoke, for two minutes each.

The hearing marks the first this school year, since the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Hampton NAACP made formal requests for the schools to be renamed. In August, the board voted unanimously to schedule the hearings.

The same public hearing process took place last year, too, but ultimately the board opted to keep the names as is. That vote was also unanimous, as members stated they believed the majority of community members wanted to keep the names.

During the meeting, some speakers said they still feel that way.

“That’s our heritage,” said Frank Earnest with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

But those against keeping the names far outnumbered those who want to keep them. And this time around, activists are bringing new arguments.

During the hearing, several cited the violent events in Charlottesville.

“I believe a lot of you are here because of Heather Heyer,” said SCLC President Andrew Shannon, referencing the woman killed during the riots.

Others, like NAACP President Gaylene Kanoyton, argue that the names are not in accordance with a school policy stating “elementary and middle schools will be named in honor of persons who have rendered outstanding service to mankind in their community, state and/or country.”

School officials told the crowd that changing both of the names would likely cost between $20,000 to $30,000.

One speaker said that the school division has “bigger problems” to deal with.

The decision is ultimately up to the board.

A second public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 8 at Hampton High School.