Fighting a Confederate Legacy in Public Education Today

Jessica Johnson
[00:00:01] School Board Member (White man) Gracious God, we come before you tonight and ask that you be with us as we deliberate on the issues before the Hanover County School Board. We ask that you be with us…

[00:00:12] Narrator This is how the Hanover County Public School Board meeting I attended in Ashland, Virginia, in September 2021 began, with a prayer in a Protestant cadence, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag.

[00:00:26] Public School Board Meeting Audience I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…

[00:00:31] Narrator This ritual was routinely led by White men on the school board and White students from Hanover schools before every public comment session. The speakers during the meeting were mostly White, too. In Hanover County, 86% of residents identify as White and 9.5 identify as Black. The area is staunchly Republican. Most residents voted for Trump in 2020 and several attended the January 6th rally before the storming of the Capitol. In the summer and fall of 2021, the crusade against teaching critical race theory in public schools was at a fever pitch in Virginia, as it was in other parts of the nation.

[00:01:10] School Board Meeting Public Commentor (White woman) I've spoken to many parents who absolutely disagree with masking our youth and teaching our children critical race theory and everything in between.

[00:01:18] Narrator Conspiracy theories about the teaching of critical race theory (or CRT), mask mandates, and transgender student policy converged in White enactments of Christian nationalism in the secular space of Hanover County Public School Board meetings.

[00:01:33] School Board Meeting Public Commentor (White man) Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for being with us tonight and protecting our school board. We pray that you guide their words, actions, and decisions that they may glorify you, God.

[00:01:43] School Board Meeting Public Commentor (White man) I want to tell you a story from the Old Testament scriptures that I think has value for you board members.

[00:01:47] School Board Meeting Public Commentor (White man) It's time for the people, including each of you, to wake up and fix our eyes on Jesus Christ.

[00:01:59] School Board Meeting Public Commentor (White woman) Please let them have the courage to vote no to the transgender policy being proposed.

[00:02:04] School Board Meeting Public Commentor (White man) We, the people, do not comply with this government overreach.

[00:02:10] School Board Meeting Public Commentor (White man) It seems to me that kings still pass ungodly laws and pressure people to accept them.

[00:02:18] School Board Meeting Public Commentor (White woman) And I would like to pray. Dear Heavenly Father…

[00:02:21] Public School Board Meeting Audience, School Board Member One nation under God…This is my prayer. Amen.

[00:02:28] Narrator The anti CRT crusade in Virginia is situated by the Confederate history of the Civil War that led to Jim Crow. Hanover County was one of the last in Virginia to integrate public schools. It did not provide high school education of Black people before 1950. In 1959, Lee Davis High School opened when Hanover was one of several Virginia localities practicing massive resistance against the Supreme Court's order in 1954 to desegregate schools in Brown versus Board of Education. Lee Davis, named after the Confederate generals, was White only until 1963 and did not fully integrate until 1969, while Stonewall Jackson Middle School, also named in honor of a Confederate general, opened in 1968. The mascot for Lee Davis High School was the Confederates. While the mascot for Stonewall Jackson Middle School was the rebels.

[00:03:32] School Board Meeting Public Commentor (White woman) We had to change mascots back at my high school. Now, you guys have changed the names of your schools and in a larger arena, you've had historical statues destroyed and removed.

[00:03:36] Pat Jordan The level of aggression that they show toward simply changing the name of a school.

[00:03:45] Narrator Pat Jordan, the current president of the Hanover chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, is one of two Black women who regularly testify during school board meetings.

[00:03:58] Pat Jordan So yes, the progression of the name change has been a lasting one. We've continued to do that. You can go back to the 1970s and earlier and see students who would cover up their jerseys. Or you can talk to cheerleaders who would say they did not want to cheer and how bad they felt every time they would hear people come over the loudspeaker and say “Confederates,” or when they would see that white horse ride down the field with the Confederate flag. And we as Black people, had to stand there and witness that and have them act as if we were an inclusive part of that. That hurts. And that is the empathy that the school board and administration lack in understanding other people other than themselves. It looks like to me Christians; followers of a true Jesus, would have more compassion towards the feelings of those kids than they would toward keeping the name of a school.

[00:05:34] Narrator I wanted to talk to Jordan about how Christianity informed her involvement with the NAACP and Hanover Public Schools. We met in July 2022 at the First Union Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, Virginia, where the Hanover NAACP was first organized in 1946, and where Jordan still attends services.

[00:05:55] Pat Jordan My faith is very important to me. It always has been. I was reared in the church, brought up in the church. Christian values from what we learned in the church. It was in our home. And that is the foundation. The church was always the foundation of Black people. It was where we gathered because we had nowhere else to go. It was where we met for meetings, anything that took place, it took place at the church. But faith is, is essential in in what we do and what we believe. And so, it's extremely important.

[00:06:50] Narrator And then how did you become involved in the NAACP here?

[00:06:55] Pat Jordan Well, I've actually been involved with it for years. The pastor of our church was very into community, and it was almost a mandate that we participated in and were involved in the community. And the NAACP was one of those organizations that he just about required us to be a part of. And I became a part of it at that time, becoming more actively involved lately after my boys became adults, which gave me a lot more time.

[00:07:37] Narrator So were you first just attending meetings or how did how was your activism? How did it develop over the years?

[00:07:44] Pat Jordan Well, yes, we attended meetings. We would participate in campaigns that they would have because our church was actively involved in that. But personally, on a personal level, yes, I started to become more active with the events that started occurring in Hanover County because we appeared to be moving more toward the religious right in Hanover, and we needed to make certain that we had a moderate view there as well. And so, I became more actively involved with their NAACP at that time. I came in, I first became part of our membership committee, and we increased our membership. Then with a vacancy in the Vice-President level, I was elected to the Vice President and that is when we had our march to change the names. And then I was elected President.

[00:08:57] Narrator Okay. So, when did the shift happen? When did you start noticing this Christian right shift?

[00:09:04] Pat Jordan Well, in the past, maybe even five years or so, we noticed more and more that people who had views that aligned more against what were truly religious beliefs and what they called religious beliefs were coming into power in our School Board and on our Board of Supervisors. And so, we decided at that point that our voice needed to become more visible in our community. And that is when we started making a bit more noise, let's say, in Hanover County.

[00:09:55] Narrator So would you say Trump's election had some impact then on the local scene, or would it be after that?

[00:10:04] Pat Jordan Honestly, it was a bit before that because in some cases you can see the writing on the wall, and we could see that here in Hanover leading up to the election of Donald Trump. And we knew what was going on. We understood the fact that Hanover always votes against the majority of what Virginia does as a whole. And so we understood the fact that that was what we were up against. We may have well as been against up against Donald Trump himself, being here in Hanover. We saw the emergence of the Klan coming and holding rallies right at our courthouse, and no one said they could do anything about it. Nobody wanted to do anything about it, which was more appalling to us. We would see that we would bring issues to them about our schools and our children of color being targeted, and no one would do anything about it. We would notice all types of things going on like that where the issues were brought to them, and there was no movement. We honestly believe in first trying to work with people and that is always been my intent as president. I will go to you first and we will attempt to work together to come up with a solution to resolve the issues. And then if that doesn't take place, then we will have to move toward more action.

[00:12:08] Narrator I was going to ask about students and teachers. I've heard certainly students during the transgender policy discussions, many brave students coming forward and speaking out during the school board meetings. I've heard some teachers as well showing support for them. During the time of the school name changes, and I know there's a longer history to this, too. It wasn't just 2019. From my understanding, 2017, when the Unite the Right rally happened in Charlottesville, there was a push, but nothing came of it because there were surveys put out and a bunch of parents said, “No, we want to keep the names,” right? There was even an earlier discussion maybe in 2014 or so. I can't remember exactly. But this has been a progressive, years and years of push.

[00:12:59] Pat Jordan Yes, it has been.

[00:13:00] Narrator So tell me a little bit about that history and then also how teachers, parents, and possibly students to have had an impact in that progression and how things changed as well as, obviously, with the NAACP and the lawsuit.

[00:13:17] Pat Jordan Well, you've got to understand that in Hanover, because of where we are and because of the politics that flowed over into the school system and to our police department. Teachers have a well-founded fear of expressing their true feelings about this because their job is on the line. We have some who've stepped forward recently because of the oppression that they are really feeling. Principals, the same way. They feel a pressure. They feel anxiety about their jobs. Now, mind you, Hanover doesn't pay the top salaries. But still, we can put this type of pressure from the administration and the board, on them about speaking their minds. And so, it becomes a thing of, you decide if you're going to be the one to risk your job. You're going to be the one to be up against the death threats that are received, and I myself have received threats from people locally, simply because we choose to speak out. As a matter of fact, my sons decided my house needed more protecting. And so, we had to invest in more security as I became president of the NAACP, just because of the mindset of this community. At one of the meetings, I expressed to the school board the fact that I can trace my family history back to the early 1800s. All of that time not one generation of my family has escaped being called the N-word, not one generation. And that is up to my grandchildren today. And so, if you see that consistently, what plan do you have in place in Hanover to make sure that hate speech does not continue? Well, they will tell you, oh, yes, we address it. But calling a student into the office and saying that's not appropriate, and they say they have a little lesson with them. Well, who's teaching the lesson to them, is the question for us. You know, is it someone who doesn't understand who we are as a people? Because the lesson that you would teach them would be totally different from the one that I would teach. We also continually say we would like to see more teachers of color in our schools. Well, we were asked, you find them and bring them to us. Well, honestly, that is your job. And you need to make sure Hanover County is a place that Black teachers would find appealing to come to. But with the current situation, we're not going to find a lot of teachers who want to come here to teach in a system that promotes bigotry as it is here. We were not involved as the NAACP in the insurrection on January 6th, but the very groups here in Hanover that claim to be a part of Hanover Police and that are working with the Hanover Police to patrol our streets, that very group took a bus to Washington, D.C. on January 6th to participate, and one of the Hanover residents was arrested. Recently at one of their meetings, the mother of that man was invited to speak, not calling them an insurrectionist as he was, as he has been convicting of, but calling him a political prisoner.

[00:18:40] Narrator And this is the Hanover Patriots.

[00:18:42] Pat Jordan Yes. And the police, they are working with them, they say. That is, every time they get up, they say they work in partnership with our Hanover police. So.

[00:19:03] Narrator And they, the Hanover Patriots formed around the time of the George Floyd protests right, after George Floyd was murdered…the Hanover Patriots formed to so-called, so-called “protect” Hanover.

[00:19:20] Pat Jordan They actually were in existence long before then. They called themselves the Hanover militia at that time. And because of that, not being able to be called a militia, they were informed, they changed their name to the Hanover Patriots and became a 501c3, so that they can raise funds to support their efforts. And so, the Hanover militia is now termed the Hanover Patriots. They patrol they say, the streets. Christmas, in the McDonald's parking lot at 360 and Lea Davis Road, you would see many F150 trucks flying Trump flags, riding the streets, and they were circling streets. And they did that after George Floyd because they were fearing, they said, all of these people were going to come from Black Lives Matter into Hanover County and cause trouble. They accused us when we had our march of bringing in people from Black Lives Matter because we had over 500 people participating in our march. They do not understand that there are people in Hanover who don't believe as they do. And that number of people is growing daily as people understand what they are about. And that as much as they want to say, we love everybody and we are inclusive, the things that you do don't prove that message.

[00:21:39] Narrator And they've been attending the school board meetings and very vocal there, too, as well, yes?

[00:21:44] Pat Jordan Yes, they have been. And they stand against books that were predominately written by black authors. Yet they say it's because of the violence in the book. The book, A Place Inside of Me, was one that they in particular wanted taken out of our schools. It's a short poem book, and it expresses the feelings of a young black teenager who, after seeing someone being killed by the police, he writes his feelings, and this is what is in the book. But because one page has blank faces on it, Supervisor Herzberg told me that that was the boy slicing off the faces of police. The book was violent. Now what could be more violent than having a gun store placed directly across the street from a school? But you don't object to that. You do nothing to oppose that. But you oppose this book. They are fighting against transgender youth in our schools. They want to say that their kids are being beat up by the transgender kids. When all evidence, any statistics that you find will show the opposite, that transgender kids are the ones who are being subjected to hate and to the violence perpetrated by others on them in our schools. And so, yes, we, we find their message perplexing, to say the least, that you can say you love everybody, that you say you're inclusive, but you are against everything that would prove you are inclusive.

[00:24:20] Narrator These ugly struggles over policy and power suggest that the fight against the Confederate legacy in public education in Hanover County is impassioned and ongoing. Pat Jordan, the NAACP and other advocates carry on this battle against deep currents of Christian nationalism and White supremacy that rise close to the surface during baseless accusations that critical race theory is being taught in K-through-12 schools.

So, with teaching of history, for example, have you noticed any positive or negative changes with regards to that? Particularly in Virginia, right, we’re in Virginia, I mean…

[00:25:10] Pat Jordan Well…we are in Virginia, and with the recent election, progress that we've made will be going backward. We are being told that different history that we had hoped to see will not be allowed to be taught in our school systems. We had a particular course that was online, African American History, that was approved by the State Board of Education. We asked the school board administration when would that be available in Hanover? We were told they had to review it and approve it. Wait a minute. The school board in the state has already approved this. What has your review have to do with that? If it's already approved for the state, it should be good enough for Hanover County. And so that was not being offered as a course, even online, to be taught. So, our kids could not take it online even. Our history is Hanover history. It is Virginia history. And until that realization sets in, then we're only going to go backward. And because of that, in February, our NAACP took the whole month of February and highlighted Black history of Black Hanoverians. And I am certain it was history that the majority of people here did not know. And so, we highlighted that we did four articles in our local paper and that come out once a week and we would highlight one Black Hanoverian. And then daily on our Facebook page, we did the same thing on our public page so that everybody wanted to, could continue to follow that, they were also posted on our website. And so that that is our way of getting the word out, making sure people are aware of our contributions to this county. Had it not been for my grandfather in 1934, the Black kids in Hanover would not have had a way to get to a high school, which again would have kept them from having a degree and a high school diploma. It even went to Virginia Union to take some students there for their college degrees. And we have to keep the fight up, until people honestly come to believe in that Christianity that they profess to believe in. Because either I'm reading a different Bible that they are reading or their way of being taught that Bible is, is falling by the wayside.

[00:29:02] Narrator This audio project was produced in collaboration with the Religion, Race and Democracy Lab at the University of Virginia, with help from the Lab’s Senior Producer Emily Garrick and the Lab's Editor, Kelly Hardcastle Jones. Music for this project comes from Blue Dot sessions. You can find more documentary research on religion, race and democracy and more stories from the Lab Summer Institute at the Religion Lab dot Virginia dot edu.

Since May 2021, I have observed public school board meetings in Hanover County, Virginia. Conspiratorial thinking about the teaching of “anti-White” critical race theory, mask mandates, and transgender student policy have converged in articulations and enactments of White Christian nationalism in this secular space. Few people of color regularly attend the meetings, but one Black woman who testifies before the school board is Pat Jordan, the current President of the Hanover chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 2019, the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit against Hanover County and the school board, arguing that the names of Lee-Davis High and Stonewall Jackson Middle Schools should be changed on constitutional grounds. The mascot for Lee-Davis High School was the Confederates, while the Stonewall Jackson Middle School was the Rebels. The suit contended that the names violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, undermining the rights of African American students by forcing them to champion a legacy of segregation and oppression in order to participate in school activities. Hanover County is staunchly Republican in the Tea Party mold. Most residents voted for Trump in 2020. 86% of Hanover residents identify as White, and 9.5% identify as Black.

Lucian Hunter, Pat Jordan’s grandfather and the first man to provide transportation to Negro students in Hanover County, standing in front of the school bus he used in 1935.

Hanover provided no high school education to Black people before 1950. Lee-Davis High School opened in 1959, when several Virginia localities were practicing “massive resistance” against the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate schools; it was White-only until 1963 and did not fully integrate until 1969. Stonewall Jackson Middle School opened in 1968. The NAACP petitioned the Hanover school board to change the school names in 2017, three months after the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville surrounding a statue of Lee. The county responded by conducting a survey that showed most residents believed the school names should stay. After the 2019 NAACP lawsuit was successful, the school board approved new names in October 2020. However, I still hear White speakers refer to the buildings by their old Confederate names during school board meetings. Some parents have expressed disdain for the changes.

The Hanover NAACP was organized in 1946 at the First Union Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, Virginia. In this podcast episode, I speak with Pat Jordan about how the history of the First Union Baptist Church and the work of the Hanover NAACP are intertwined, tracing that history to the present day. Jordan was Vice President when the Hanover NAACP held a 500-person march and filed to change the Confederate names of Lee-Davis High and Stonewall Jackson Middle Schools in 2019. The focus of our conversation is on this contemporary period of activism, from the NAACP’s successful 2019 campaign to change the school names to the present day anti-critical race theory panic and policy. I talk with Jordan about how Christianity informs her involvement with the NAACP and Hanover public schools. We met in July 2022 at the First Union Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, Virginia, where Jordan still attends services.



Jessica Johnson, “The Crusade Against Critical Race Theory in Hanover County, Virginia,” The Revealer, December 9, 2021,


Jessica Johnson, “Christian Nationalism is a Threat to some Virginia Schools,” The Washington Post, October 10, 2022,


N.A., “Hanover County Unit of the NAACP v. Hanover County and County School Board of Hanover County,” United States District Court Eastern District of Virginia Richmond Division, August 16, 2019,


Gregory S. Schneider, “NAACP Challenges Legality of Confederate Names on Virginia Schools,” The Washington Post, August 16, 2019,

Project Contributors

Jessica Johnson

Jessica Johnson

Jessica Johnson is a Visiting Scholar of Religious Studies at William & Mary. Her book on the rise and fall of Mars Hill Church, Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll's Evangelical Empire, was published by Duke University Press in 2018.

Kelly Hardcastle Jones

Kelly Hardcastle Jones


I’m a freelance producer and editor, currently working on Seizing Freedom (from Virginia Public Media and Stitcher). I also help UVA students produce documentaries for the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab. I used to be a producer for BackStory, which I joined after a brief and sordid affair with graduate-level philosophy in Guelph, Canada. I started a nationally syndicated radio show and podcast called Pioneer Radio, got some training at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, won a Third Coast Short Doc award for a three-minute piece about poutine, produced a documentary for the BBC about firearm suicide, and started a family. Before becoming a freelancer, I developed, produced, edited, and hosted a podcast through NPR’s Storytelling Lab called Do Over about regret and the strange terror of the choices we make. I also produced Brand Soundscapes for NPM/Creative. In my non-audio time, I do kung fu.

Additional Credits

Many thanks to Pat Jordan for inviting me to speak with her at First Union Baptist Church, an incredible place with a rich history vital to her family, the county of Hanover, and the Commonwealth of Virginia