The former Stonewall Jackson Middle School on Charleston’s West Side has a new name after the Kanawha County Board of Education voted 3-2 on Thursday to call it West Side Middle.
The school board voted unanimously last week, under pressure from a community push for change, to remove Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s name from the school. But board members didn’t immediately pick a new name.
The middle school, formerly a high school, was built on a former plantation and originally enrolled white people only.
Today, though, it’s 42% Black — the highest proportion among public middle schools in West Virginia, according to the state Department of Education.
On Thursday, board member Ric Cavender moved to name the school Katherine Johnson West Side Middle, a compromise.
But only board member Ryan White, who said he preferred to postpone the naming to see if a consensus could be determined, voted alongside Cavender.
Board members Becky Jordon, Jim Crawford and Tracy White voted no. Those three then picked West Side Middle.
Three Black men and a Black student, Camdyn Harris, the rising seventh-grader at what will now be West Side Middle, spoke to the board Thursday in support of just naming it West Side Middle. Harris was a prominent speaker in the push to remove the Confederate general’s name.
“We, as students, do not want to exclude any race that attends the school, both now and in the future,” Harris said. “There is no I in team. Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Several Black women spoke in favor of Katherine Johnson Middle or Katherine Johnson West Side Middle.
Dr. Gregg Suzanne Ferguson said that, with the removal of the Confederate name, “this counteractive swing should not stop at neutrality but should continue to follow through to equal and opposite reaction.”
Tracy White said, “I don’t want to wait on this, I feel like, if we wait longer, I feel the community division will increase over what it will be named.”
A Change.org online petition launched last month garnered about 6,600 signatures to rename it to Katherine Johnson Middle. Johnson, a Black woman from White Sulphur Springs and a West Virginia State College graduate, was a pioneering NASA mathematician.
Johnson came in behind Tuskegee University founder and former Malden resident Booker T. Washington in an ad hoc vote among about 40 people who gathered on Charleston’s West Side last month to push for ditching Jackson’s name.
Jackson was born in 1824 near Clarksburg, which was then still part of Virginia.
Also among the five names of prominent Black West Virginians proposed at that meeting:
- the Rev. Paul Gilmer Sr., a Charleston firefighter, community activist and former state higher education system leader;
- Black History Month founder and former Huntington principal Carter G. Woodson; and,
- civil rights leader and anti-apartheid activist Leon Sullivan.
Last week, the school system posted an online survey that was available for less than one week. It allowed people to suggest any name. The survey put two generic names, West Side Middle, with 1,607 votes, and Charleston Middle, with 474 votes, at No. 1 and No. 3, respectively.
Katherine Johnson was No. 2, with 1,134 votes, Jack Perry was No. 4, with 334 votes, and Booker T. Washington was No. 5, with 313.
Perry was a coach for the middle school who died in 2018. He’s in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, according to his obituary.
A spokeswoman for the school system said the survey didn’t block multiple votes or votes from outside Kanawha County. The Change.org petition also didn’t confirm that voters were who they said they were.