News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Four Dallas Schools Must Change Confederate Names, Prompting Emotional Debate

Bill Zeeble
Stonewall Jackson Elementary held its Carnival, a fundraising event, last weekend. Items will have a new name next year.

A unanimous school board says Dallas Independent School District must change the names of four schools named for Confederate leaders: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and William L. Cabell elementary schools. 

The board will consider new names in February. Until then, the process of coming up with different names could be emotional — like it was at a recent meeting at Stonewall Jackson.

School name versus identity

Several dozen parents and teachers jammed the air-conditioned library for one of Stonewall Jackson’s regular community meetings last week.

It’s was a good turnout at the East Dallas school, which is on Mockingbird Lane near Central Expressway. There was talk for a bit about cars going too fast in school zones. Then, they moved onto a hotter topic.

“A name defines a person,” said Freida Apodaca. “It’s like when you name your child.”

Apodaca is a special education teacher at Stonewall Jackson. Her children attended this school. She said the community needs more time to make such a serious, sensitive change. And she hopes school board members will give it to them because it’s important.

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
Freida Apodaca is Stonewall's special ed teacher. She's sensitive to those feeling upended by the school board's order to change the name.

The meeting was emotional; some were in tears. And attitudes about a name change were mixed. 

Some want to keep the Stonewall name that’s been on the school since 1939. It was named for Confederate Gen. Thomas Jonathan Jackson.

Others welcome a change. An informal poll among some staff found most respondents wanted to keep the Stonewall name.

Principal Melanie Mans isn’t taking sides. She lives nearby and understands the emotions tied to the school’s name. It’s considered one of the best elementary schools in the district.

“It’s very, very difficult because they’re so passionate and we’ve built such a reputation at Stonewall Jackson with that name,” she said.

The name change makes no sense to David Coon. The father of a third grader at Stonewall, he said this school’s earned its top reputation as a National Blue Ribbon winner because of strong parental involvement, diverse student body, celebrated garden and deaf education program.

“Thomas Jackson died a 150 years ago and Stonewall was a nickname. Now, it seems absurd to me to want to change the name ‘Stonewall’ when so many kids identify with it. They are ‘Stonewall Stars.’ And my kid has already come up to me and [said] ‘Daddy, why change the name?’ I can’t come up with a logical answer for him because it is ridiculous."

"We are Stonewall Jackson. He is irrelevant at this point."

Relevance of history

Coon isn’t alone. Sean McDonald, Stonewall’s music teacher, gets a lot of questions about the school name because he’s African-American.

“I don’t tie Stonewall Jackson — the person back then — I don’t tie him to injustices now. And I don’t think having that name necessarily honors him in any way,” he said. “You know, we are Stonewall Jackson. He is irrelevant at this point.”

But he is relevant, said Tiffani Evans, who is also African-American. She agrees that current parents and teachers help make this school succeed. But she believes the name does matter. She welcomes the name change for her and her 10 year-old.

“He’s going to a school that’s being named after someone who was honored for a lost cause. A traitorous type of thing. It is history,” Evans said. “But that doesn’t mean we have to name a school after it. That’s what museums are full of; that’s what books are for.”

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
David Coon debates with Tiffani Evans over the school name change at a regular community meeting on Oct. 5. He's against the change; she's for it.

What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Stonewall parent Carolyn Wilmot seems to adopt that approach to her kid’s school.

“Taking away the name Stonewall isn’t going to take away how amazing the school is. It’s not. This school is made up of the people inside it, the teachers that are there every day, the parents that are giving their time in the garden and giving their time in Dad’s Club.”

Wilmot’s excited about the name change while understanding the stress she said parents and teachers are going through.

A school committee is working to come up new names – and she’ll offer one of her own. It’s not attached to a person. Instead, it’s a reference to her community: East Dallas Elementary.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.