Members of the Kanawha County Board of Education got an earful last night as hundreds of community members turned out for a special meeting to support adding the name of the late Mary C. Snow, a prominent Charleston African American educator, to the name of the West Side Elementary School. The meeting came about due to community mobilization led by the Tuesday Morning Group, a coalition of black and white and religious and secular community advocates for social and racial justice
I think several factors drove the big turnout, not least of which are community anger over being treated with disrespect and sadness over the disappearance of local black history. The history of the name issue goes back to 2009 when the board adopted a flawed process for naming the school. Read more here and here.
Last month, board members voted 3 to 2 to oppose adding Snow's name. The most bizarre moment last night came when board member Becky Jordon, who opposed the change, basically attacked the audience, telling them "Don't just come out here when you want to complain about a name."
She obviously didn't get the fact that it wasn't just about the name. Or the fact that many of the people pushing hardest for the addition of Snow's name are also those who work hardest to help disadvantaged children and adults in that community and to make the school succeed.
About the only people there who didn't support the name change were the board majority and school staff, who may or may not have been pressured to support keeping the current name of West Side Elementary School, which one person observed was "a location, not a name."
It was sad to see board members and educators squandering support for a community school and digging in over this rather than graciously yielding and accepting the win/win compromise of naming it Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School--a step that even school superintendent Ron Duerring publicly supported last night
There were some great zingers last night from those who attended. One of my favorites was when a speaker contrasted Snow to other dead people who had schools named after them in the county: "I am supremely confident in that Mary Snow did a lot more for the education of Kanawha County students than George Washington, Stonewall Jackson, Andrew Jackson and Herbert Hoover combined."
Tom Rodd, a local attorney who previously clerked for state supreme court justice Larry Starcher, quoted African American state justice Franklin Cleckley on the value of changing one's mind when better information emerges. When he changed his mind in a case decision, Cleckley said "I will take refuge in an aphorism of Justice Felix Frankfurter: 'Wisdom too often never comes, and so one out not to reject it merely because it comes late.'"
I didn't speak that night since I don't live in the the county, but if I did, I would have said that there are powerful people in the country and state who don't believe in public institutions, who want to undermine public education and degrade public educators--but those people weren't the ones who showed up at the meeting. The ones who came believe strongly in public education and depend on it for the education and future of their children.
It is stupid and tragic to see such people treated with disrespect--and it's not very smart to treat your allies that way. You just might need them some day.