by G. Brown
Former South African President Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” If that’s true, then today’s lesson comes from a Mississippi School District which just approved a change that is the equivalent of dropping a B-53 nuke on an education institution.
The public elementary school in Jackson Mississippi currently goes by the name of Davis Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary. The school is named after Jefferson Davis–the man who served as President of the Confederacy. Beginning next year, the school’s new name will be Barack Obama Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary.
The board of trustees approved the change this week to honor former President Obama. If any school is the perfect candidate for a name change, it’s this one. About 98% of the students who attend Davis Magnet are Black, so why is their school named after a man who fought to keep Blacks in slavery? Davis Magnet PTA President Janelle Jefferson said, “Jefferson Davis, although infamous in his own right, would probably not be too happy about a diverse school promoting the education of the very individuals he fought to keep enslaved being named after him” Even more disturbing, who initially thought subjecting young children to learning under the moniker of a man who in his lifetime didn’t even see them as human, but as property to own. How did walking into that place with that name not have an impact on all those Black students? According to that PTA President, it did affect them. Jefferson said, “They know who [Davis] was and what he stood for This has a great impact on them, because [Obama] is who they chose out of anybody else they could. This is the person that the whole school supported.”
Choosing a new name was not some knee jerk action from organizers. Students researched their options and made presentations. Abiding by the rules of a democracy, the students held an election and cast paper ballots for the name they wanted. According to Jefferson, Obama was the students’ number one choice. Just like in a true democracy, everyone had a voice in the decision including parents and educators.
As arguments over Confederate flags, statues and buildings have torn the country apart in recent months, it’s especially brave and forward thinking of this school in Mississippi to step out and stop living under the shadows of the past. Jefferson Davis was considered a war hero by some and a traitor guilty of treason by others. Those voting for the name change says they wanted their school to be named after a person or persons “of good character” and who made contributions to education. Davis’ biggest contribution to education is that of one of the primary figures during one of the darkest periods of American history.
What do you think…is the school making the right move in renaming the institution after our 44th President? Do you think this will impact other debates over Confederate symbols and statues?