Johnson and Burnley-Moran up next as Charlottesville charges forward with school name review

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Charlottesville City Schools has started reconsidering the names of Burnley-Moran and Johnson Elementary Schools — and they’re looking for community input. 

City Schools opened a survey asking a single question: Should the district keep the names and the associations with Carrie Burnley, Sarepta Moran and James Johnson or find new names for the two schools?

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The district will hold a Zoom meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. to discuss that question. Those interested in participating at the forum should RSVP on the school’s website. 

The two schools are both named after former City School leaders.

Burnley and Moran were principals, and active in the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Burnley-Moran is named after the first two women to become principals of Charlottesville schools. Carrie Burnley and Sarepta Moran served as principals in the first half of the 20th Century. Burnley led the white-only McGuffey School. Moran headed the white-only Venable Elementary School.

They were both active members of the United Daughters of Confederacy, according to research compiled by local historian Phil Varner.

Varner compiled a website for his research, called Correcting the Narrative, that delves into Charlottesville history. A section of the site called “The Names and Namesakes of Charlottesville City School” details the lives of each person for whom a Charlottesville school is named after. City Schools uses the site as a reference in each school renaming process. 

According to Varner’s research, Burnley was first cousins with Paul Goodloe McIntire, the Charlottesville benefactor who donated land and now infamous Confederate statues to the city. Burnley was active in the movement to erect those statues.

Both Burnley and Moran were proponents of the “Lost Cause,” a Southern interpretation of the Civil War that most historians view as a myth. The Lost Cause downplayed the role of slavery in causing the war and portrayed Black enslaved people as happy and faithful servants who were not prepared for freedom.

During their tenures, both women sought textbooks that promoted the Lost Cause, according to Varner. Burnley also created school activities — like having white students decorate the Robert E. Lee statue with flowers — that aligned with it.

Johnson was superintendent during segregation.

Johnson Elementary school is named after James G. Johnson, who served as superintendent of schools for City Public Schools from 1909 to 1946. 

The school district was segregated during his entire tenure, and spent far more money on white students than on Black students, according to Varner’s research. Black students received half the amount of money as their white counterparts.

When Johnson took charge, Black students did not have a high school, only an elementary school. After 20 years at the helm, Johnson oversaw the construction of a Black high school in 1929. That building is now the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.

Jefferson High School was one of five schools the district built during Johnson’s leadership, the other four were white only and included McGuffey Primary, Venable Primary, George Rogers Clark School and Lane High.

“It is difficult to precisely evaluate Johnson’s actions in the context of a system that was ostensibly ‘separate but equal,’ but was inherently ‘separate but unequal,’” Varner wrote. “The same documentation from Johnson’s correspondence can be used to argue either his disinterest in equality of educational opportunities for Black students, or that he significantly improved them through ‘subversive’ action couched in the language of white paternalism.”

Two elementary schools have already been renamed.

Last week, the school board voted to change the names of Venable Elementary School to Trailblazers and Clark to Summit Elementary School. The schools were previously named after prominent local men, one a former Confederate soldier and the other an owner of enslaved people. 

The Naming of Facilities Committee, the group that facilitates the name changes, wanted to model the names after significant attributes of the schools. Summit refers to the mountain views that can be seen from the school and serves as inspiration for students to strive for new heights, according to a Charlottesville news release on the decision. The name Trailblazers is meant to honor the “Venable 9,” who were a part of the larger “Charlottesville 12,” a group of Black students who were the first to attend formerly white-only schools in 1958. 

Take Action

Take the City School survey on whether Johnson and Burnley-Moran should keep their names

City Schools got off to a rocky start with its process of renaming the first schools. After an October community forum failed to reach a vote, those at the meeting asked the committee to get additional input from the students at the schools. The votes from students showed favoritism for a few names, including Friendship for Clark, which left a board member unsure if the names properly represented the students and overall community. 

After an impassioned debate at a January meeting, the school’s announced they would continue the process for the next two schools that following week.

Editor’s note: In a previous version of this story we referred to Paul Goodloe McIntire as infamous. We meant to refer to the Confederate statues as infamous and have corrected the story.

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