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Danville NAACP leader wants to see Woodrow Wilson school name changed, Wooding statue removed

Danville NAACP leader wants to see Woodrow Wilson school name changed, Wooding statue removed

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The head of the Danville branch of the NAACP wants to remove the names of Woodrow Wilson Intermediate School and see Mayor Harry Wooding's statue gone from the front of the Municipal Building. 

"I want this to happen now," Danville NAACP President Tommy Bennett told the Danville Register & Bee. 

Wooding fought for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. 

Confederate statues are coming down in other cities and Princeton University announced June 27 that it would remove Woodrow Wilson's name from its school of public policy. 

It's only appropriate that Danville takes similar steps, Bennett said. 

"Everything around the world is happening now — why wait?" he said, adding that he would like to see the names changed before the upcoming school year starts.  

Bennett said he would take his request for the name changes to the Danville School Board. 

Danville School Board Chairwoman Crystal Averett Cobbs said the topic has not been discussed among board members. 

"We haven't talked about it," Cobbs said Thursday. "It's not something that's been brought up to the board."

Whether the names would be changed should be up to the community, she said. 

"We are always open to people coming to us and giving us their thoughts," Cobbs said. 

Such a question would be in the hands of the school board, said City Attorney Clarke Whitfield. 

"That would be a decision of the school board, " Whitfield said. "The city doesn't have any control over the schools' properties."

Woodrow Wilson Intermediate School principal Tonya Steele would not comment for this story.  

However, a request to remove the Wooding statue would be under Danville City Council. 

Woodrow Wilson served as 28th president of the United States from 1913-21. 

Wilson, a Democrat, was considered a racist who once threw a civil rights leader, William Monroe Trotter, out of the White House when Trotter met with Wilson to discuss segregation in Wilson's administration and across the country. 

Wilson also held a private screening of the notorious 1915 D.W. Griffith film, "The Birth of a Nation," at the White House. The movie glorified the Ku Klux Klan. 

Born in Staunton, Wilson attended Princeton University in New Jersey, became a professor there and served as the school's president. While there, he would not allow Black students to attend and erased earlier admissions of Black students from the university's history, according to a July 6 article in The New Republic.

Harry Wooding fought for the Confederate Army from 1863-65 during the Civil War. Wooding once held the record for serving the longest continuous time as mayor in the U.S. at 46 years, from 1892 to 1938.

Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones said he would prefer to hear citizen input on whether to rename the schools or remove the Wooding statue. 

"It's an issue that Danville is going to have to deal with," Jones said. "I think the citizens should have a part in it as well."  

Cobbs and Jones have expressed support for changing the name of Stonewall Therapeutic Center, as well. The facility is named after Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, the Confederate general. 

Jones also said he supported changing the name of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School and removing the Wooding statue, but was trying to learn more about O.T. Bonner. 

The removal of statues of Confederate figures and changing of school names have increased recently amid Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. 

Such statues have come down recently in Richmond. Protesters toppled a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the city removed statues of Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. 

Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered the removal of a bronze equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee, but that has been delayed because of a court challenge.  

In addition, Northam wrote a letter to school boards across the state Monday requesting that names of schools and mascots recognizing Confederates be changed. 

"When our public schools are named individuals who advanced slavery and systemic racism, and we allow those names to remain on school property, we tacitly endorse their values as their own," Northam wrote. "This is no longer acceptable."

Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.

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