The weekly Prince William Today reported in its April 29th edition that Prince William County Republican Supervisors Ruth Anderson, Pete Candland, and Jeanine Lawson have been threatening substantial reductions in school funding in response to the School Board’s recent decision to strike the name of a Virginia segregationist from a Neabsco district middle school. Other Republicans on the Board have joined with Democrats John Jenkins and Frank Principi in blocking the move.
According to Prince William Today, the three supervisors proposed “slashing the RSA [Revenue Sharing Agreement] to 54 percent, which Candland, Lawson and Anderson dubbed ‘fixing the revenue sharing agreement.’” Again according to Prince William Today, “Candland hinted that the move was partly in response to the School Board’s recent decision to change the name of Mills E. Godwin Middle to George M. Hampton Middle, in part because Godwin, a former Virginia governor, supported school segregation as a state senator in the 1950s and 1960s.”
As reported in previous postings on the Muckraker, the school was named for Godwin in 1970, after completion of his first term as governor and during the period of white conservative backlash against advances in civil rights for blacks during the middle and late 1960s. Godwin had been a leader of Virginia’s “Massive Resistance” response to federally-mandated desegregation of the public schools. Virginia’s repugnant policy involved localities closing public schools rather than allowing black school children to attend with whites. The state legislature even allocated millions of taxpayer dollars to pay for white students to attend private schools while the public schools were closed, leaving black children and some poor whites without schooling for up to five years. After the Democratic Party’s formal embrace of the Civil Rights Movement, Godwin joined numerous other white conservatives and jumped to the Republican Party as part of the latter’s notorious “Southern Strategy,” which used racial animus toward civil rights advances to lure over Southern Democrats.
The original School Board vote to remove Godwin’s name was 8-0. Soon thereafter, however, Supervisors Anderson, Candland, and Lawson began a full-court press to defend Godwin and revoke the name change. Candland and Lawson spoke out against the change from the dais of the Board of County Supervisors. In perhaps the most astounding move, however, Supervisor Ruth Anderson’s husband, Delegate Rich Anderson (R-51), appeared before the School Board to argue that Godwin was worthy of honor because “he navigated a very dark period in American history.” People opposed to the name change had made reasonable arguments about the lack of community input and even about traditional loyalty to the name given how long it had been associated with the school. No one except a very limited number that included the county’s most notorious bigots, however, had taken the position, as Anderson did, that it would be appropriate to honor the unrepentant segregationist Godwin today, in 2016, with the name of a middle school.
Not surprisingly, the three Republican members of the School Board, Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville), Gil Trenum (Brentsville), and Willie Deutsch (Coles) forced a vote to rescind the name change. Democrats prevailed 5-3 to prevent the move, but it was not lost on supporters of the name change that the three School Board members who reversed themselves and voted for rescinding all hail not only from outside the district where the minority-majority school was located, but represent magisterial districts in Prince William County with an overwhelming white majority.
For many this seemed a painful reminder of history repeating itself, as a number of name change opponents had complained that the school had been named for Godwin 45 years ago without complaint. 45 years ago – during the backlash against civil rights advances and when, according to census figures, the black population of Prince William County was less than 6%. In fact, at that time in 1970 the percentage of the population of Prince William County that was white was at its historical high – higher than it has ever been since data collection started in 1790.
Foiled twice in their interventionist stance to usurp the prerogatives of the elected School Board, Candland, Lawson, and Ruth and Rich Anderson altered strategies. At the state level, Delegate Rich Anderson (R-51) let it be known that he was jettisoning the Republican commitment to local governance and would be introducing legislation regarding the naming of schools. At the county supervisor level Anderson, Candland, and Lawson focused on continuing their personal smears of School Board members, using the house organ of the Mac Haddow-Pete Candland cabal, the Sheriff of Nottingham blog.
They also began an attack on the cost of the renaming by mischaracterizing public estimates drawn up by school staff. Those estimates showed that the cost could be up to $500,000 if the name change also included things like changing the mascot, school colors (reflected on floor tiles), etc. Many such changes would not be necessary and none of them have yet been decided upon by the School Board or School System/Godwin community. Nor is funding for any such costs being sought from the County. Yet that did not prevent Anderson, Candland, and Lawson from irresponsibly throwing around the figure of ½ million dollars in yet another cynical attempt to prevent the Godwin name change.
It’s worth asking what cost would be acceptable to the likes of Anderson, Candland, and Lawson to remove the name of an unrepentant segregationist of the 1950s and 1960s from a now minority-majority middle school. One suspects no amount would be acceptable and reveals the true motives behind the actions of the three.
As the facts slowly emerged about the likely actual costs of the name change, Anderson, Candland, and Lawson appear to have realized that their argument is losing its force. Thus we arrive at their latest strategy iteration as reported in Prince William Today – an attempt to intimidate by a threat to retaliate with substantial cuts to public school funding. Sound familiar? Welcome to Massive Resistance 2016 style.
Here we have the progenitor of their efforts in his own words from 1961, after he had “moderated” his earlier position on Massive Resistance.