Committee to make recommendation on namesake at Aug. meeting
While many family members and former students praised former Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Paul H. Cale, the namesake of Cale Elementary School, for his efforts to integrate county schools, a 1964 graduate of Burley High School said she felt “offended” by the superintendent’s word usage.
The incident occurred at a morning assembly in the auditorium during Berdell McCoy Fleming’s sophomore year. She said in an interview that she cannot recall whether Paul H. Cale was a frequent visitor, but she remembered the words the superintendent used to greet the students.
“I remember him greeting us, ‘Good morning, and it’s so good to be here with you ‘nigra children,’” said Fleming, who also serves on the executive board of the Albemarle-Charlottesville chapter of the NAACP.
“… I don’t know why we had to be determined by some word that was so alien and so insulting,” she said of the pronunciation of “negro.”
Tuesday’s meeting was the third of four scheduled by a 12-person advisory committee on the school’s name. It was formed in response to a presentation by Lorenzo Dickerson, web and social media specialist for the county, that highlighted segregation in American schools and the challenges of the first black students who integrated in the county’s public schools.
The video shown to the School Board last fall referenced a 1956 magazine article that, through lengthy passages of paraphrasing, implied that Cale argued against integrating schools in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. After the presentation, some School Board members called for a review of building names.
Fleming said she decided to share her experience with the committee because she has been in social justice work for many years.
She said she was brought back to that memory of Cale while she went to pick up a child and saw a school was named after him.
“Everybody has their own truth,” Fleming said. “Everybody has their own story. That’s my story.”
The committee dedicated Tuesday’s meeting for the community to hear from the Cale family.
Suzanne Cale Wood and Paul H. Cale Jr. were among speakers defending their father’s reputation at the meeting. Cale Jr. told committee members that they have a responsibility to evaluate the information available, and it was not their responsibility to rationalize or justify what they, the superintendent or the School Board believe.
Other speakers in favor of keeping the namesake argued that the use of “nigra” by Cale, who was superintendent from 1947 to 1967, wasn’t offensive at the time, adding that’s how the superintendent pronounced “negro” because of his accent. They also added that Cale opposed the School Board’s ban on sports and social activities in the face of forced integration and hired the first African Americans to central office leader positions in the county.
Cale’s supporters at the meeting stood up in solidarity after each speaker spoke in favor of keeping the name.
During a Q&A session, Cale Elementary Assistant Principal Ben Allen asked if the Cale family had insights on the suffering of black families during integration.
Wood said she knew of the suffering and almost went to a march in the South but didn’t because she was pregnant. Prior to the Q&A, Wood argued her father “was not a racist.”
“As a young daughter, I knew my father’s heart,” she said, adding her father knew the conditions of the black schools and was passionate about wanting to improve the situation.
Wood also said her father cared and respected black and white teachers equally.
“My dad never wanted to make it difficult for any child,” Wood said.
Although Waltine Eubanks, an African American teacher, said Cale turned her down for a teaching job in 1964, she said, “I firmly believe that the name should remain as it is.”
Despite her interaction with Cale, “there was so much good that he did after that 1964 period in his tenure,” she said.
No one at a public hearing in June spoke in favor of renaming the school. Also in June, committee member Paul McArtor said in an interview that the lack of representation surprised him because he knows there’s a population wanting the change.
This place is intimidating. We had arrests. We have been brutalized in this space. People of color know that this has happened.
Amanda Moxham, organizer of the Hate-Free Schools Coalition of Albemarle County, said one of the reasons community members might have opted out from speaking at the hearing is because they are afraid.
“This place is intimidating. We had arrests. We have been brutalized in this space,” she said. “People of color know that this has happened.”
Last August, the School Board abruptly ended a work session after outbursts and six protesters were arrested both inside and outside of a regular meeting during discussions on banning Confederate symbols in county schools and the school system’s anti-racism policy.
In subsequent months, the School Board has shown a low tolerance for any utterances beyond those allowed to speak during citizen comment periods, set up a rope to separate the dais from the rest of Lane Auditorium and some meetings have had a heavy police presence.
Moxham said if the committee chooses to keep the name, it could affect the division’s chances to attract or retain black teachers. Keeping the name will also show a lack of alignment and courage that the division exhibits in anti-racist work.
“As a person of color myself, knowing that the [division goes] through a process to review and then continue to accept the namesake of someone who is accused of being a racist is troublesome,” she said.
Having a committee analyzing if a name should be changed should be concerning enough, she said.
“It’s a really overt show of how white supremacy functions in our system. So, we can create bureaucracies to continue to stall and change the conversation,” she said.
The committee is expected to make a recommendation to Superintendent Matt Haas at its fourth meeting on Aug. 14.