Jefferson Davis out, Barack Obama in at Mississippi elementary school

JACKSON, Miss. — An elementary school in Mississippi is switching out the president of the Confederacy for the first black president.

Davis Elementary School in Jackson will be renamed Barack Obama Elementary School for the next school year.

The school was named for Jefferson Davis decades ago, says CNN affiliate WAPT. But parents at the school, which is 98% African-American, proposed renaming the school to honor America’s 44th president.

The switch was made possible after the board of the mostly-black Jackson Public School District decided last month it would allow the community and school PTAs the option to rename schools that were named for Confederate leaders.

A community effort

Ideas for a new name for the school were submitted to the PTA by students, staff and community members. The school also held an assembly earlier this month where students from each class gave presentations on their top name choices. The school community then voted for the top three choices at the school on October 5, with Barack Obama overwhelmingly winning the vote.

“The school community wanted to rename the campus to reflect a person who fully represents ideals and public stances consistent with what we want our children to believe about themselves,” Davis Elementary School PTA President Janelle Jefferson told the school board earlier this week.

Jefferson said she was very happy to see the school’s students take such an active role in the process.

“It was a very positive experience,” she told CNN. “And it was wonderful to see the children grasping this idea that they can be change agents.”

Preliminary plans are under way to have a ceremony next year to commemorate the name change, and Jefferson said President Obama will “absolutely” be invited.

An ongoing debate

The school has been ranked as Mississippi’s top elementary school, according to the school district, and two years ago it achieved the highest reading proficiency in the state.

In addition to renaming Davis Elementary, schools named for Robert E. Lee and James Zachariah George may also have their names changed.

The school’s name change comes amid the nationwide debate over whether to remove Confederate statues and symbols. New Orleans, Baltimore, New York City and Madison, Wisconsin, are just a few of the cities that have either removed or voted to remove Confederate statues. Other cities are considering such a move.

A nationwide debate surrounding this issue has been underway since Dylann Roof killed nine African-Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015 in an effort to “start a race war.” And it flared up again after white nationalists marched during the summer to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counterprotester was killed amid violent clashes between demonstrators.