A woman stands before a podium in an auditorium addressing a dais.
Karen Waters, ACPS director of community education, addresses the Albemarle County School Board before members vote on renaming Meriwether Lewis Elementary School. Credit: Screenshot of Jan. 12, 2023 Albemarle County School Board meeting

Albemarle County’s Meriwether Lewis Elementary School will be renamed Ivy Elementary School as of July 1, 2023.

The elementary school is the eighth Albemarle County Public School to have its name changed since 2018. 

The board voted unanimously to change the name, despite students and community members voting against it. Similar to Charlottesville City Schools, the committee allowed the students at Meriwether to give their say on which name they preferred.

Out of the 321 students who voted, 160 voted to maintain the name, 77 voted for Ivy, 46 for Bluebird and 23 for Owensville.

The vote between changing the name or keeping it was split among the community members who gave input. School board members were swayed after hearing a presentation about the school’s anti-racism policy, after which they decided the name Meriwether Lewis could violate the guidelines.

The policy reads, in part, “The Albemarle County S​chool Board and School Division reject all forms of racism as destructive to their mission, vision, values and goals.​​​”

Meriwether Lewis, half of the infamous Lewis and Clark duo, owned a 17,000 acre plot of land in Albemarle County. The giant plot of land was also the home to dozens of people he enslaved.

Photo shows a historic-looking photo of a man in a high-necked white shirt with a black jacket.
Portrait of Meriwether Lewis cerca 1807. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As Lewis and Clark embarked on their journey to explore the Pacific Northwest and the Louisiana Purchase, his family oversaw his plantation back in Virginia. After his expedition, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Lewis as governor of the Louisiana Territory where he hired a free Black man as his personal servant. Though he worked for the governor for two years, the man was never paid for his labor and died with Lewis still indebted to him. 

Karen Waters, project manager for the School Name Review Committee, said it’s easy to believe one side of a person’s history and legacy. 

“I think with Meriwether, the legend of his story was much greater than the actual person,” said Waters. “I think the real story about him is that your perspective is shaped by who is controlling the narrative and what information you have, but it wasn’t difficult to uncover all of this additional information.”

Not everyone was happy with the decision. One of the renaming committee members, a parent, told the board that several of his fellow members declined to participate after being told that the name might violate the anti-racism policy.

“During two different surveys of over 400 people, 90% of those participants said they wanted to keep Meriweather Lewis as the name,” said committee member Corey Brandon Lindsey.

The committee member expressed his dislike toward the process.

“I don’t think [all] people will ever be happy with their school’s name being changed under any circumstances,” said Haas. “We can keep working on the process and maybe get it right by the time we finish up.”

This time around, the naming committee landed on three choices: Ivy, Owensville and Meriwether Lewis. 

Of the three names recommended to the board last night, a unanimous vote came for Ivy. Albemarle schools will begin the process of changing the school’s name — changing the website, installing new signs, etc. — at the start of July. 

The school board also decided Thursday night to rewrite the policy to ban renaming a school after an individual. All members agreed to channel the suggestions toward either geographical based names (think Mountainview) or values based (think Journey).

Fourteen schools in the district were selected for the renaming process in October 2018. Each school is given a new committee — some with members of previous ones but usually made up of members of that school’s community — at the start of each process.

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Tamica Jean-Charles

I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's education and families reporter. Reach out to me by email or on Twitter. Also, subscribe to our newsletter! C’mon, it’s free.