Home Mailbag: The Augusta County politics in the Shenandoah County school names story
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Mailbag: The Augusta County politics in the Shenandoah County school names story

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Sometimes you find yourself wishing that you didn’t know stuff about people that you’ve been working with on the issues of the day, because once you do, you realize, geez.

That’s me right now.

“If the school board had listened to their voters they wouldn’t have changed the name to start with. It’s not taking a step backwards….it’s called democracy.”

That’s Scott Cline right there, commenting on the AFP Facebook page, and those are fighting words, given the context – Cline was commenting on our story on the decision by the Shenandoah County School Board last week to return the names of Confederate military “heroes” to two public schools.

In the story, I had referenced the move as being “a big step backwards,” so, Cline, picking at my phrasing the way he did, hey, you do you there, man.

Cline’s comment was among the more than 1,500, and counting, on the AFP Facebook page on the story, easily one of the more in-depth social-media conversations we’ve seen in the past few weeks.

I know Cline as a member of the Augusta County Republican Committee who has been in regular contact with me over the past several months because local Republicans are fighting amongst themselves, and I’m guessing now that the reachout was made as part of an effort to try to leverage media coverage to favor the one side over the other.

To be honest, I’d kinda been sensing that for a while, but then, hey, also being honest, I’ve been leveraging Cline, too – because he’s a close confidante of Scott Seaton, the Republican on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors who has been in conflict with the other six Republicans on the board for the past couple of years.

Politics, indeed, makes for strange bedfellows, as the saying goes.

My interest is open government in Augusta County; that interest of mine has me on the same side as people who applaud the return of the names of the original insurrectionists to school buildings.

“My question is – did Mountain View and Honey Run have changes in the GPAs of the students? Or better yet, who was hurt by the names of Jackson, or Ashby? We live in a sensitive society. Do these same people that fear these words? Do they avoid Lee Jackson Hwy?”

That was a comment on the Facebook thread from Mary Beth Barbagallo, who I got to know, online, through Cline, and the group Augusta County Watch, which promotes itself as a “local, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses the tools of citizen networking, open data, policy analysis, and FOIA to make our local government officials and county employees more accountable and transparent to all.”

Irony being what it is, Augusta County Watch, which features the tagline “pulling the curtain back on local government” on its website, doesn’t include information on that page or its social-media pages about who its members are, and the Facebook page for the group hides who follows the page from public view.

Transparency for thee, but not for me, right?

Here’s another comment on the Shenandoah County schools issue on our Facebook page from Barbagallo:

“Most communities name buildings and streets after people that had significance in the community. Changing the name doesn’t change history. What about people that have the same last name? Should they change their name? All of this will end when we are reduced to numbers.”

That argument from Barbagallo falls flat against the context of when Shenandoah County first put the name of Stonewall Jackson on its new high school – in 1959, nearly a century after the Civil War, but just five years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of school desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education.

The legacy of the Confederacy enjoyed quite the resurgence in interest post-Brown v. Board in the South, and in particular in Virginia, where the strategy of massive resistance was birthed in 1956, as the Byrd machine led the political fight against desegregation.

The only “significance in the community” in Shenandoah County for Stonewall Jackson, a native of Clarksburg, 162 miles west of Mount Jackson, where the high school is located – the town was named not for Stonewall, but for Andrew – would be that the school board in 1959 decide to name the school after him.

The backdrop against which that was done – as Virginia’s political leaders were trying to keep public schools segregated – should matter.

The 2020 decision by the Shenandoah County School Board to drop Stonewall Jackson from the name of the high school wasn’t an attempt to “change history,” but rather an effort to right an obvious wrong from six decades earlier.

The vote four years later to put Jackson’s name back on the school is what it is – a new school board trying to change history, and a big step backwards.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].