Almost all pupils who attend Jefferson Davis International Baccalaureate Elementary School (Davis IB) are black. Yet, the bitter irony is inescapable: the school is named after a man who believed strongly in white supremacy.
But now, they are doing something about it.
The Mississippi school will soon be named Barack Obama IB, after the first African-American president. The change will take place in the next school year.
Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. He waged the almighty war to keep black slaves, the ancestors of the majority of Davis IB’s students, as second-class citizens.
As of 2010, Jackson was 79.4 percent African American. The school’s student body is around 97 percent black.
Davis 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,” said Janelle Jefferson, president of the school’s parent-teacher association (PTA).
The decision came after a student’s mother brought the matter to the PTA, who in turn brought it to the school community. It was made possible because Jackson Public School District last month approved a motion to allow parents and the community to decide upon the names of local schools after “persons of good character and prominence who have made outstanding contributions to the school system.”
Other schools in the city are named after Confederate figures including General Robert E. Lee – a statue of whom sparked protests and violence from far-right extremists in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this year – especially inappropriate given that the entire Jackson school district’s student population is overwhelmingly African American.
Texas school boards this month also voted to remove Lee’s name from a number of high schools.
Students, staff and parents at Davis Elementary were asked to think of possible new names over a two week period and a vote shortly ensued. Every class gave presentations on their chosen name for the school during an assembly before the vote.
There was a strict deadline on the name suggestions which was then followed by a paper ballot voting system. The vote to rename the school by the PTA and other stakeholders took place on 5 October. Their decision was then brought to the school board, which approved the change this Tuesday.
“The student recognis[ed] that our school is named for a person who didn’t agree that they [black people] should thrive educationally — or any way in life — or really be considered a human being,” said Jefferson speaking to The Washington Post.
The PTA president said Obama “fully represents ideals and public stances consistent with what we want our children to believe about themselves,” according to the Clarion-Ledger.
Board President Camille Simms said: “I wholeheartedly agree with the name.” Davis IB students and staff are now busy, but excitedly, readying themselves for their grand renaming.
Students seem to be pleased with the name but for those who aren’t, hey, at least they didn’t end up with Schooly McSchoolFace as the winning suggestion.