Supporters call for name change of Rawls Byrd Elementary

The Virginia Gazette

JAMES CITY- Close to 20 members of the York-James City-Williamsburg NAACP came to the Williamsburg-James City County School Board meeting in support of changing the name of Rawls Byrd Elementary School.

Byrd is a former superintendent who oversaw the merger of Williamsburg and James City County’s schools. He served as superintendent from 1928 to 1964.

Those calling for a name change allege Byrd was discriminatory toward black students and opposed integration.

Several of those in attendance were former students at Bruton Heights High School during Byrd’s tenure.  

“He had no compunction about belittling non-whites,” said Lafayette Jones, 73. “I know this to be true because I had an encounter with him in 1960.”

Jones, who is black, said he had applied for enrollment at James Blair High School as a high school junior. Jones said Byrd questioned him and told him that if he applied for the transfer, he would shut down both schools before he would allow a black student to attend a white school.

The movement parallels name-change efforts in other counties. 

On March 10, the Henrico County School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Harry F. Byrd Middle School, which was named for the former state senator and governor whose leadership of the Massive Resistance movement stalled integration of schools.

One of the factors in changing the name is the cost of rebranding. In Henrico, school officials estimate it will spend roughly $13,000 in replacing a sign, scoreboard signage, rug and stationery, all emblazoned with “Byrd.”

Six speakers - black and white and Asian - spoke in favor of changing the name. 

“I remember well the effects of his discriminatory educational policies on me and other students,” said Vivian Bland, 82. “Mr. Byrd did not respect black students. He tried to control what we would know and what we would do.”

During School Board member comments, Julie Hummel, Mary Minor, Kyra Cook, Jim Beers and Sandy Young all said they would like to see the board address the name issue. 

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