Wake County Schools votes unanimously to rename Daniels Middle School, which was named for known white supremacist

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Wake school board votes for Daniels Middle School to be renamed Oberlin Middle School
Wake school board votes for Daniels Middle School to be renamed Oberlin Middle School

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Wake County School Board voted Tuesday to change the name of one of the district's middle schools.

The board voted unanimously to rename Daniels Middle School to Oberlin Middle School.

The name stems from the nearby Oberlin Village historic district, a place where prosperous and influential African Americans thrived for many decades following the Civil War.

"In the wake of the senseless death of George Floyd and so many others before him, there is a call for true racial justice in this country, louder and more insistent than we have heard since the the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s," said Keith Sutton, chair of the Wake County Board of Education. "Changing the name of a school is purely symbolic. But I hope it signals our commitment as a school district to confront the wrongs of the past, and to work harder than ever to undo them."

Raw video: Wake school board votes to change name of Daniels Middle School

Daniels Magnet Middle School was named after Josephus Daniels.

A Raleigh statue of Daniels was taken down Tuesday morning just before daybreak at the request of his family.

Statue of white supremacist Josephus Daniels removed from Raleigh's Nash Square

In the 1890s, Daniels gained a controlling interest in the Raleigh News & Observer. He used the paper to promote white supremacy even calling the Fifteenth Amendment (which gave black people the right to vote) "the greatest folly and crime in our national history."

Daniels and the News & Observer were cited in a government report as being directly involved for the Wilmington Massacre of 1898. That is an event in North Carolina history noted by historians as a major turning point in Reconstruction but often left out of mainstream history classes.

The event was reported at the time as a race riot but later revealed for what it was: a violent a coup d'état organized by white supremacists. White supremacists from across the state descended on Wilmington, killing black people and ultimately overthrowing a duly elected government.

SEE ALSO: UNC to change plaques in Kenan Stadium to remove references to leader in Wilmington Massacre

A report commissioned in 2000 by the North Carolina state legislature, and not finished until 2006, identified Daniels as a main cause of the massacre.

Years after the Wilmington Massacre, Daniels, a Democrat, supported Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election. When Wilson won, Daniels was appointed Secretary of the Navy, which he led through World War I. He left government life in 1921, returning to the News & Observer, which his family owned until it was sold in 1995.

School Board Chairman Keith Sutton said Friday he wanted that change, and an online petition is calling for the same.

SEE ALSO: The history behind naming Fort Bragg after a Confederate general

"Personally I do think that we should make a decision to change the name moving forward. But again, I'm just one decision. It takes the nine of us as a board, but personally I do think that the name should be changed," Sutton said.

Sutton said the board would be taking a look at the middle school's name and whether it can be changed. He said there is no official inquiry into changing the name, but he expects the board to discuss it at its next meeting.

Sutton discussed the possibility of removing School Resource Officers from campuses. The district has received at least one petition calling for that change in response to the police brutality concerns rising across the country.

"I believe any immediate removal would be premature at best," Sutton said.

He elaborated by saying all partnerships can be improved. He vowed the school board would look into ways to improve the current SRO program, but vouched for the effectiveness of keeping officers on campus.

"At any given day, our campuses are among the safest places in the county, but there are times that law enforcement is needed. I believe it is better for our students and staff if they know and have a relationship with the officer who answers the call," he said.