Sunday, October 2, 2022

NHCS votes to find a new name for Walter L. Parsley Elementary

Walter L. Parsley Elementary School (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Walter L. Parsley Elementary school will soon have a new name, the New Hanover County Board of Education decided, after a vote yesterday that officially began a search process for a new name. 

The decision to rename the school starts a public 60-day name nomination period, for which the Board will have the final say on, with the hopes of having a concrete choice by the start of the 2021-2022 school year. The vote was 5-1 in favor, with Bill Rivenbark voting against; David Wortman was not present at the meeting. 

Rivenbark’s dissent was based on uncertainty as to the specific individual honored with the eponymous elementary school. 

There are two Walter L. Parsleys. The elder was a mastermind of the 1898 coup d’état that saw the overthrowing of Wilmington’s elected bi-racial government and murder of Black residents at the hands of White supremacists. The younger Walter L. Parlsey, grandson of the White supremacist, sold a portion of his inherited family estate to New Hanover County Schools in 1999, upon which the school was built. Since the younger Parsley eschewed a ‘Jr.’ or ‘II’ suffix, there is sometimes confusion between the two.

The Board has been under pressure to consider removing the Parsley name for some time. Amid a national movement to reevaluate and address racist historical figures who have been memorialized with namesake government buildings, Wilmington leaders have been working to confront this city’s history.

Last month the New Hanover County Commission voted to change the name of Hugh MacRae Park, named for the elder Parsley’s brother-in-law and racist co-conspirator, to Long Leaf Park.

The new NHCS policy on renaming schools and facilities says that “Any new or renamed school will be named for geographic terms related to the area of the county served,” meaning that county schools cannot be renamed after a person. 

At a Board of Education committee meeting last month, Chairwoman Lisa Estep spoke to the necessity of conducting an inventory of building and facility names throughout the county.

“Schools have a lot on their plates right now, and this isn’t going to be top of the list,” she said. “I do think that it’s something that we need to do. We need to know what our schools are named after, what our facilities are named after. We need to have that information.” 

According to Estep, that process will include Holliday stadium at Laney High School, rather than give that contentious facility its own hearing.

The Board will take 60 days to allow the public to suggest new names.

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