Columbia County's Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration Committee held its first planning meeting for the 2007 event, sadly and coincidentally, on the day of funeral visitation for Charlie Norwood.
Norwood has been the speaker for the Memorial Day weekend event each year since it started in 2001. His absence this year will be huge, but the plan is to use the May 26 celebration as a memorial to Norwood and as an opportunity to dedicate the Justice Center plaza and street named last week in his honor.
Those aren't the only things contemplated for carrying his name. Commissioners say they'll consider naming the Evans Town Center Park for Norwood. And the idea of naming Columbia County's next high school for the late congressman is getting tossed around as the community tries to come to grips with a way to honor the man who was easily its current most popular politician.
Among the things standing in the way of the idea is a Columbia County school system policy that prohibits naming schools after people.
Should the policy be changed? And if it is, should Norwood be the first man in the post-change era to be so honored?
The discussion should begin with a recap of local history. The naming policy has its roots in the county's slow evolution toward integration. Far behind the rest of the country, but with considerably less struggle and upheaval than most communities - thanks mostly to legendary school superintendent John Pierce Blanchard - Columbia County schools finally desegregated in the fall of 1970.
During the school system overhaul for integration, the school board at that time enacted a policy prohibiting schools from being named after people. The effect of that policy was to change the names of what had been three black schools: Blanchard High School became Columbia Junior High; Gibbs Elementary became Evans Elementary; and George T. White Elementary became South Harlem.
Why the change? Well, two undiscussed reasons: First, so white children wouldn't have to attend a school named after a black man - who, ironically, was named White; and, so that the names of the previously black schools wouldn't stand out from the geographically named all-white schools such as Harlem and Bel Air. (Previously black Phinizy Elementary also changed to North Columbia, but the Phinizy name was based on the nearby community.)
Just about everyone can agree the school board changed the policy for the wrong reasons. Now, 37 years later, can anyone assert any good reasons for keeping the policy? If not, and if the policy is changed, can anyone make a specific case for naming the new high school after Norwood rather than, say, Blanchard? Or after George T. White, a renowned black educator?
For my part, I believe that things should not be named after living people. Norwood was still alive when the Columbia County Commission renamed the plaza in front of the courthouse and the street next to it in his honor. That philosophical technicality became moot less than 24 hours later when Norwood died.
Yet even with that hurdle cleared, I think there needs to be a little breathing room in the discussion. Otherwise, the decision could be made not with careful consideration, but driven by pure emotion. That can lead to the kind of faulty judgment that created the school system's naming policy in the first place.
The good news is that Columbia County's next high school won't be opened for about two years. That will give everyone plenty of time to reflect on the policy itself - and on the most appropriate memorials for Charlie Norwood.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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