A growing contingent of community members wants to strip the name of one of Virginia’s most notorious politicians from a Henrico County middle school.
Parents and students at Harry Flood Byrd Middle School want the former U.S. senator, Virginia governor and state senator’s name removed from the school, which is located in the Tuckahoe district. Byrd, a Democrat, was the leader of the state’s Massive Resistance movement, which sought to halt school desegregation after the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Displeasure with the school’s name surfaced at a Henrico School Board meeting two weeks ago, when a Hermitage High School student presented a hard-copy petition with 500 signatures asking for a name-change. An online version has garnered 250 more signatures. Liz Farber, a parent of a 6th grader at the school, says the name isn’t appropriate.
“I do not think Byrd’s name reflects the student population or the amazing job the school does with such a diverse of students, both racially and socioeconomically,” Farber says.
The school opened in 1971, post-integration. Today, half of its students are white, 20 percent are African American, just under 13 percent are Asian and more than 11 percent are Hispanic, according to 2015-16 fall enrollment data available through the Virginia Department of Education.
Farber says she doesn’t have a replacement name in mind, but would be satisfied if it was named for its location or another person the community decides to honor.
She and other supporters of the petition are planning to attend the Dec. 10 meeting of the Henrico School Board. The board can call a public hearing on the issue if it determines there’s enough community support to change the name.
“We certainly do not want to see Harry Flood Byrd’s [name] taken out of the history books … I just feel that with his history of really leading the effort of Massive Resistance, it kind of floors me that his name was ever put on a school,” Farber says.