How a Wave of Segregationist Tributes, from Streets to Schools, Entrenched the Idea of White SupremacyHistorians in the News
tags: memorials, Confederacy, Virginia, monuments, public history, White Supremacy, Lost Cause
Locals see names on streets, roadways and parks ― John B. Magruder and Jefferson Davis come to mind. For some, they are just instructional, for others they are a painful reminder.
Students wear sweatshirts bearing such names ― consider Maury High ― to show school spirit.
Even Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson had legal holidays dedicated to their honor.
These men, sometimes called segregationists, supported a world to keep Black people enslaved or subordinate, thus fostering white supremacy.
Scattered across Hampton Roads, memorials to their honor take the form of monuments, plaques, statues, street signs, schools and building names.
Many segregationists are still revered as heroes or a part of some shared heritage, even 150 years after the first tributes appeared in Virginia. A bitter legacy for others, they evoke painful memories. In the wake of renewed calls for social justice, many such tributes are being removed.
“Two groups of people can see the same monument, and both will have a different vision and meaning of its purpose,” Calvin Pearson, a Hampton historian and co-founder of Project 1619 Inc., wrote in an email. “These monuments have shaped the perspective of people of color for many generations because it reminds them that their ancestors were not considered citizens.”
The topic of changing school names that honor segregationists came front and center in several districts across Hampton Roads last year.
Maury High School, named after oceanographer and Virginia native Matthew Fontaine Maury, and other Norfolk schools are being reviewed. Some schools in Portsmouth will indeed have new names, as well as four Newport News schools.
But why were such names given in the first place?
Dedicating public spaces, streets and schools to segregationists was deliberate, said Dan Margolies, a history professor at Virginia Wesleyan University who teaches about the Civil War.
Some reasons were obvious ― white people wanted to honor Confederate soldiers as heroes.
“That’s why there’s Lee Highway and Jefferson Davis Highway and all these schools named after Lee, and Jeb Stuart, and Jefferson Davis,” said Margolies.
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