School Board Votes To Get Rid Of Raiders As High School Nickname

·5 min read

LEESBURG, VA — The Loudoun County School Board voted unanimously early Tuesday morning to remove Raiders as the nickname for Loudoun County High School in Leesburg in response to the name's association with John Mosby, a Confederate colonel during the American Civil War.

The vote came toward the end of a marathon school board meeting. The school board kicked off the meeting with a public comment period — 294 members of the public signed up to comment —that lasted four hours. The public addressed the proposal to change the Raiders name and offered their views on how the county should conduct classes this fall in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Staff at the Loudoun County Public Schools, including Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams, had recommended the name change. The Loudoun County School Board agreed with the recommended action, voting 9-0 "that the Loudoun County School Board direct staff to remove 'Raiders' as the mascot of Loudoun County High School and engage the Loudoun County High School community to rename the school's mascot."

The removal of the Raiders nickname comes after weeks of national protests advocating racial justice and the end of police brutality.

In their comments during the online meeting, members of the public leaned in favor of removing Raiders as the Loudoun County High School nickname. However, several commenters noted that the nickname is no longer attached to the Confederacy after the school removed the Confederate flag from the emblem and the school 40 years ago.

Some opponents to the name change also argued that the cost of removing Raiders from the school could be better spent on other school needs, especially with the coronavirus crisis creating budget problems for the county.

Loudoun County School Board member Beth Barts (Leesburg), who voted to remove Raiders as the nickname, said at last week's board meeting that the costs of replacing the nickname could exceed $1 million. During the comment period, though, some members of the public argued that the cost of changing the name would be far less than $1 million.

Since 1954, the LCHS nickname has been Raiders, which most people believe is a reference to the Confederate Army unit led by Mosby known as Mosby's Rangers, which is sometimes referred to as Mosby's Raiders.

Earlier this month, School Board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) asked Loudoun public school administrators to investigate whether any of Loudoun County's schools had names linked to the Confederacy as part of the school system's plans to combat systemic racism.

School officials found that no schools were named after people associated with the Confederacy. They found that only Loudoun County High School's mascot was named after the Confederate band of soldiers, which have been referred to as Mosby's Raiders by some historians.

When he first moved to Loudoun, Serotkin said his family lived near Aldie in an area known as a spot for Mosby and his rangers to ambush Union troops. Each day he drove to work on the John Mosby Highway. Serotkin said it was time to stop glorifying those who took up arms against the United States.

Richard Gillespie, historian emeritus at the Mosby Heritage Area Association and a former history teacher at Loudoun Valley High School, told Patch that in his extensive research on John Mosby, he does not remember finding any references to Mosby's men being called raiders during the Civil War. Instead, they were known as Mosby's Rangers.

Mosby's 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry would meet up twice a week at various places in the area at which time they would go off on raids of Union forces. Their missions were called raids, but the men were not called raiders, said Gillespie, one of the foremost scholars on Mosby in Virginia.

After the Civil War, Mosby became a Republican and made friends in the Union after the war. "He was not like a Nathan Bedford Forest at all," Gillespie said, referring to the Confederate Army general who became a prominent post-war leader of the Ku Klux Klan. "One of Mosby's best friends was Ulysses S. Grant after the war," he said.

Many members of the public who commented Monday evening said it doesn't matter whether Mosby's battalion was called Rangers or Raiders. The intent of Loudoun County High School in 1954, when it was an all-white, desegregated school, was to pick a nickname that would honor Mosby.

Gillespie, who began teaching U.S. history at Loudoun Valley High School in the early 1970s, recalled how Black residents of Loudoun County had better opinions of Loudoun Valley High School because it was a desegregated school from the time it opened its doors in 1962.

LCHS waited until the 1964-1965 school year to allow its first Black students to attend the school, a move that was controversial among white parents in the county.

"County was a very conservative school," Gillespie said. “Desegregation was much nastier at Loudoun County.”

Gillespie, who retired from teaching in 2004, recalls that teachers at Loudoun Valley High School thought it was amazing that any Loudoun school by the late 1970s would think it was appropriate to have a Confederate flag on its walls inside the school and featured prominently outside the school.

Until 1980, the Raiders mascot was depicted as a mounted soldier carrying a Confederate battle flag. The school did not consider taking any action to remove the Confederate flag until the late 1970s when Gene Ashton, a well-known African American civil right activist, took a hatchet to the Confederate flag on the sign that stood outside LCHS.

Gillespie remembers being in the teacher's lounge at Loudoun Valley and hearing a fellow teacher announce that a parent of a student at LCHS, Ashton, had used a hatchet to chop off the Confederate flag. Gillespie said he smiled with satisfaction when he heard the news.

Ashton, who was one of the leaders of the integration of downtown Leesburg in the 1960s as a high school student and a young adult, had succeeded again with his action at LCHS. The Confederate flag, which had been included in the school emblem from 1960 to 1979, was finally removed.


This article originally appeared on the Leesburg Patch

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