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Prince William School Board Stays Decision to Rename Godwin Middle

| April 7, 2016 | 0 Comments | Education
April 6 meeting of the Prince William County School Board.

April 6 meeting of the Prince William County School Board.

Last night’s school board meeting demonstrated that the sins of the past are not so easily erased.

After a long citizens time, the majority of the board voted against rescinding the name change of Godwin Middle School and reaffirmed their commitment to rename the school after George M. Hampton.

School board members Gil Trenum (Brentsville), Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) and Willie Deutsch (Coles) voted for the motion to keep the Godwin name indefinitely contingent upon community input. The motion also said that a new school would be named for Dr. Hampton, this school year while the board considered whether or not renamed Godwin Middle. That motion failed.

It was a tense night for all the Kelley Center. Nearly fifty citizens had signed up to speak. Most expressed strongly that Gov. Mills Godwin should no longer have a school named after him.

Although the renaming of Godwin Middle School in Woodbridge (Neabsco District) began as a compromise, for supporters of George M. Hampton, it became a promise they were determined to make school board to keep.

Despite costs and that the Godwin community did not receive community meetings, supporters of the Hampton name explained they felt it was absolutely the right decision.

They argued not only was Mills Godwin not just a flawed person, but the “architect” of the resistance to the integration of Virginia Public Schools.

Gov. Godwin’s interference with the integration meant some public schools in Virginia were closed for five years, and black children were denied an equal education. Meanwhile, Mills Godwin also helped white children enter private institutions.

A citizen noted perhaps a private school that white children attended at the time should instead bear his name.

Also, residents did not buy that Godwin’s shift on segregation was genuine

Others said affluent white neighborhoods get expensive new schools, yet people are contesting the cost of the name change, which is much less, between $100,000 and $500,000.

They also supported the decision to name the school after George Hampton, saying Hampton is an honorable name who children of different races could admire. Again and again, they asked board members to keep their words.

There were also several citizens who asked that the Godwin community be allowed input on the name before the decision is finalized.

School board members took the time to express their sentiments before voting

Trenum shared his concerns over the lack of process, which “disenfranchised the Godwin Middle School community.”

He said if they offer Hampton a new school, the family could participate in establishing the identity from the beginning as was done with Gravely Elementary in Haymarket.

Lillie Jessie of the Occoquan District said he was being hypocritical.

“I am just stunned,” she said. “You talked about the Gravely; you didn’t talk about the time you named Ronald Reagan Middle School without community input…You didn’t talk about the time the community voted 22-20 to name the school after Faxton Burke, but you didn’t listen to the community, because 22 to 20, [you said] ‘I don’t consider a majority’…I call it ‘change the rules; maintain the status quo.’”

Jessie defended her belief that race was at the heart of the issue. .

“How dare you say, ‘we inserted race?” she asked, showing a historic photo of a black child holding a sign, reading: “I have lost four years of education. Why five?”

She said black people don’t play the race card, but the only hand they were dealt. “There was only one card: it was poverty.”

She doubted the issue was really about community input, but something else.

“If you want to call it the race card, you can call it the white race card, tonight,” Jessie said. “Don’t tell me it’s because you want to involve the community.”

Unequal education is likely the reason she was the only member of her all-black graduating class to earn a masters degree, and 96 percent of them did not graduate college.

But Deutsch saw the situation much differently, describing the affair as a “coordinated effort.”

He said they were going down a dangerous path when they do not trust each other to name the schools in their districts.

He also agreed that the Godwin community was being disenfranchised.

“Many don’t speak English, don’t have cars. As we speak of giving people a voice, what we did to them was wrong,” Deutsch said.

Potomac representative Justin Wilk said they are a representative democracy, so it was sufficient to speak with the district representative.

He also said race absolutely needs to be discussed.

“Race does need to be talked about in our society, and if it takes a Yankee to come down to Virginia to do it, that Yankees is going to do it,” Wilk said, raising his voice. “Nobody talks about the cost of the thousands of African Americans who were denied an education by that man.”

Diane Raulston of the Neabsco District agreed that race cannot be ignored.

“How people can say ‘it never happened?’” she asked.

She shared that her daughter received a death threat on her because of her work for the NAACP.

Raulston also called out Godwin teachers for speaking out against the name change.

“The teachers of the school are angry because they’re changing the name; I don’t want them there. I know I’m suppose to say that, so I’ll probably be in jail tomorrow,” she said.

Chairman Sawyers said he is proud to name his first elementary school as chairman after Wilson, and the second after Hampton, especially because Gov. Godwin does not deserve a school named after him.

“It’s almost expected that the person you name a school after is a good person; Mills Godwin was not a good person.”

He said if the vote was really about process, then school board members would be concerned that the next school community would not get due process.

Board members also made empathetic statements.

As a biracial child, Loree Williams, Woodbridge representative, said her intelligence was questioned when she entered Prince William schools. She asked that people should consider issues through more than one lens, as she had to do all her life.

She also said she had very few role models growing up.

“Science says when you have someone who looks like you, and they do great things, you believe you can too,” Williams said.

Alyson Satterwhite said that discussion was eye-opening.

“Thank you for opening up people’s eyes to what you have experienced in your lifetime,” Satterwhite said. “It doesn’t fall on deaf ears.”

She emphasized it is not a decision she took lightly, even as she knew the motion would not pass.

She said the conversation helped her realize the lasting effects of segregation on people’s lives today.

However, Satterwhite said if the Godwin school was to be renamed, she would rather it be done through a conversation with the community. Several people booed her when she said we should remember, “the good, bad and the ugly.”

Satterwhite asked that the community who came out would consider volunteering in the Godwin Middle School community.

“Your influence on their lives will make a difference that will last forever, and I know you know that (because you support Dr. Hampton.) Whatever happens, we move forward.”

© 2016, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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