RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A Virginia chapter of the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit Friday against a Richmond-area school district for using the names of Confederate leaders on two school buildings, claiming it forces black students to support a legacy of oppression.
Filing its 31-page complaint in Richmond federal court, the Hanover County NAACP seeks to change the names of Lee-Davis High School as well as Stonewall Jackson Middle School, calling them “vestiges of a shameful, racist educational system.” The former building is named after Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee and the latter is named after the well-known Confederate commander.
The group, represented by lead attorney Azadeh Erfani of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, claims the continued use of the names violates students’ First Amendment right to free speech and Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection.
It also accuses the schools of violating the Equal Educational Opportunities Act by failing to “take affirmative steps towards removing the vestiges of the dual, segregated system.”
“Forcing public school children to use Confederate names as a condition of participation forces them to engage in speech they disavow,” the lawsuit states. “Forcing African American students to attend a school rife with Confederate imagery and veneration creates a school environment that denies students of color an equal opportunity to an education.”
The two schools sit in rural Hanover County, just north of Richmond. The lawsuit says black students of the school must adhere to policies supporting the schools’ mascots – the Rebels and the Confederates – and “endorse the violent defense of slavery pursued by the Confederacy and the symbolism that these images have in the modern white supremacist movement.”
The complaint also points to Virginia’s history with desegregation, specifically the “mass resistance” movement which saw the state’s public school system shut down for two years rather than mix black and white students. Schools eventually reopened, but it took another decade for them to fully integrate.
“The deliberate retention of those names creates a stigma against and feeling of inferiority among African American students who attend Lee-Davis HS and Stonewall Jackson MS,” the lawsuit states. “This effect endures even after students leave Lee-Davis HS and Stonewall Jackson MS, because former students continue to be associated with those schools by virtue of the schools’ names being represented on those former students’ transcripts, diplomas, resumes, and job applications.”
Hanover County Public Schools and the local NAACP did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.