By a show of hands, on a 7-0 vote, the Durham school board on Thursday night approved revisions to the Durham Public Schools’ student dress code to ban the Confederate flag, Ku Klux Kan symbols and swastikas.
The board also voted unanimously to strip Durham industrialist and philanthropist Julian Shakespeare Carr’s name from the middle school building at Durham School of the Arts — a historic campus that was once Durham High School — because of Carr’s racial views and comments he made at the dedication of the Confederate memorial at UNC Chapel Hill, which is now known as Silent Sam.
At the dedication of the memorial, Carr, a Confederate Civil War veteran, spoke about the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race and talked in great detail about how he beat an African-American woman because she had insulted a white woman.
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“He spoke in explicit detail about beating an African-American woman, describing her using words I will not repeat here, ‘until her skirts hung in shreds,’ for the sin of insulting a white woman and running for protection to the federal soldiers garrisoned there,” DPS Superintendent Bert L’Homme said Thursday.
L’Homme said the DPS administration will review the names of all of its schools and school buildings.
DPS maintenance crews could begin removing Carr’s name from the building as early as Friday so that it is gone by the time students return to school from the summer break Monday.
L’Homme said deciding whether a name should remain on a building will be a complex task, noting that in spite of his racial views, Carr supported blacks such as John Merrick in founding N.C. Mutual Insurance Co., helped W.G. Pearson go to college and graduate from Shaw University and was friends with N.C. Central University founder James E. Shepard and provided financial support to help Shepard start the school.
“But for all of his contributions, the values he espoused and the brutal actions he claimed to take in no way reflect the safe and inclusive community that we are building in Durham Public Schools,” L’Homme said. “We are under no requirement to continue to name any of our school buildings after white supremacists.”
DPS Board of Education Vice Chairman Steve Unruhe said he wants DPS to place a plaque at DSA near one commemorating the McKissick family, which integrated the once all-white Durham High School, that explains why the board decided to remove Carr’s name from the building.
“To me it goes hand-in-hand, that we preserve history by talking about what we’re doing and we make a statement that we’re not honoring that particular action, but we want our children to know the complexity that make up our history,” Unruhe said.
The school board’s decision to remove Carr’s name from DSA comes amid a national conversation about the appropriateness of Confederate statues and other such symbols in modern America.
Locally, protesters in Durham toppled a statue of a Confederate soldier in front of the Old County Courthouse downtown on Aug. 14. Carr had also made racist, white supremacist remarks at the dedication of that statue. And hundreds of students and others gathered on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill on Tuesday to call for the removal of the Silent Sam statute because of its ties to Jim Crow laws and white supremacists.
Confederate flag ban
While the school board’s vote to remove Carr’s name from the middle school building at DSA was a surprise, its unanimous support of the changes to the dress code was expected because members had expressed support for it at a work session last week.
In approving the Confederate flag ban, DPS joined Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in prohibiting students from wearing articles of clothing or other items with the Confederate flag, swastikas or KKK symbols.
DPS’ revised policy bans items “reasonably expected to intimidate other students on the basis of race (for example the Confederate battle flag, Nazi swastika, and Ku Klux Klan or KKK) religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, academic status, gender identity, physical appearance, sexual orientation, mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, immigration status, or any other classification that is protected by law, regulation or Board policy.”
School board member Natalie Beyer asked that the proposal be amended to make it clear that the items listed in the policy such as the Confederate flag are not the only ones that can be “reasonably expected” to intimidate other students.
Beyer said the addition would help principals deal with students who push the policy to the limit.
“I wondered if it would be stronger and permissible for it to say including but not limited to items that are reasonably expected to intimidate so that it is clear that is not an exhaustive list,” Beyer said.
The board agreed to Beyer’s recommended change.
Unruhe said the policy revisions won’t change the fact that principals will be asked to make some fast, tough decisions when it comes to the student dress code and may not always get it right.
“We have to be aware that a principal is going to make a decision at sometime that two weeks later, as we hear about it in a meeting, would seem like it was not a wise decision,” Unruhe said.
School board Chairman Mike Lee agreed that such decisions have always been left to principals under the dress code policy.
But Lee said it was important at this time to list examples of the kinds of symbols that are intimidating to some students.
“I felt it was really important for us to get specific, called-out examples of the kinds of things that are bubbling up now,” Lee said.
In Orange County, the school district sent parents a copy of its dress code changes and a statement alerting them to new changes.
“Though there have been several revisions to the new dress code policy, there are some significant changes in the new policy that deserve highlighted attention,” the statement reads. “In particular, there are new prohibitions about items that are reasonably expected to intimidate other students.”
All three school boards have said they were moved to action by the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12 during a counterprotest to a march by white supremacists.