- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The push to scrub the Confederacy from the public square has reverberated in favor of President Barack Obama, a Chicagoan by way of Hawaii whose name is popping up on signs and structures throughout the South.

The latest entity to be Obama‘d is J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia, where the school board agreed Monday to swap the Confederate general’s name with that of the 44th president, even though the kids voted to call it “Northside.”

Key to the decision was the social significance of replacing a leading figure of the Confederacy with the nation’s first black president.

“In the former capital of the Confederacy, we decided to stop honoring an individual who fought to preserve slavery — and to begin honoring our first African-American President instead,” said Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras in a Tuesday statement.

Likewise in Jackson, Mississippi, where school officials agreed last year to adopt Mr. Obama’s name and jettison that of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis at Davis Magnet School.



Meanwhile, a section of the Old Dixie Highway in Riviera, Florida, has been redubbed the President Barack Obama Highway, the vote coming after Mayor Thomas Masters who said the name “still invokes memories of racism and slavery in the Old South.”

Thanks in part to the nomenclature whiplash on Confederate references, Mr. Obama is off to a fast start when it comes to having things named after him, but the South isn’t the only place where the Democrat’s name can be found.

The Obama list includes 18 schools — including three in California — 13 streets, a road in Valencia, Spain, a peak in Antigua and Barbuda — as well as 12 species, reportedly the most biota named for any U.S. president.

Still, Mr. Obama has a long way to go before he catches up to former presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who lead the way among recent presidents with eponymous structures, roads, memorials and other landmarks.

Grover Norquist, who heads the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project at Americans for Tax Reform, said Mr. Kennedy has about 800 things named for him. The only other modern figure who can compare is the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., also with 800.

But Mr. Reagan is making headway. So far about 170 items have been named for him: 18 abroad — including 11 in Eastern Europe — and 150 in the United States, notably the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

There are plans afoot for a Reagan monument in Kiev, sponsored by the Ukrainian Economic Freedoms Foundation, on a site that formerly housed a statue of Vladimir Lenin.

Why do some presidents’ names wind up seemingly everywhere and others not? It helps to have advocates in your corner like Jackie Kennedy, who made it her mission to see JFK’s name memorialized after his assassination in 1963.

Then come questions of achievement, popularity and historic significance. Mr. Obama’s legacy on foreign and domestic matters may still be up for debate, but there’s no question he remains well-liked among Democratic voters and that he holds a unique place in U.S. history as the first black president.

“In the back of people’s minds, they’re asking, ‘Are we buying a stock that’s going to appreciate?’ ” Mr. Norquist said.

Another point in Mr. Obama’s favor: He retired young and still makes public appearances, meaning that “one of the ways you’ll get Obama to come give a talk in our neighborhood is if you name something after him,” Mr. Norquist said.

For the Richmond School Board, changing the name may have improved the district’s chances of an ex-presidential visit while getting rid of a name that honors a Confederate war hero.

The board voted 6-1 to rename the elementary school, capping a two-month drive to remove J.E.B. Stuart, a renowned cavalry commander who died in the 1864 Battle of Yellow Tavern and whose role in the South’s defeat at Gettysburg remains a topic of debate among historians.

The move came even though a June 12 vote by students at the elementary school showed that 190 wanted to rename their school “Northside,” the name of the neighborhood, with 166 voting for “Barack Obama” and 127 for “Wishtree.”

Then again, Mr. Obama might have had the inside track: Mr. Kamras served as an educational adviser to the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.

“I’m thrilled that the students of J.E.B. Stuart — who recommended Barack Obama as one of their top choices for the new name — will now have the opportunity to attend a school that honors a leader who represents the great promise of America,” Mr. Kamras said in a statement.

The original list of seven choices included the names of four local political and civil-rights leaders, but the students went with Northside, a reference to the neighborhood on the north end of town.

Even though Northside was the students’ choice, the administration recommended honoring the former president,” and “the School Board, as it has consistently done since the new administration took over in February, approved the recommendation,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch said.

Board member Kenya Gibson, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said later that while Mr. Obama’s presidency “was incredible and deserves recognition,” so do important Richmond figures.

“We have so many local leaders that deserve recognition: Albert Norrell, Oliver Hill, Henry Marsh, Barbara Grey, and so many others,” Ms. Gibson said in a Facebook post. “I am thrilled that we are renaming J.E.B. Stuart. Let this also be a lesson for us as adults — it is our responsibility to ensure our local heroes live on by teaching these stories to our children.”

Changing the name of the school, which has a student population that is about 95 percent black, will cost an estimated $26,000.

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