School Name Change Hearing Draws Passionate Cale Supporters

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Paul Cale Jr. (center) listens as attendees speak in support of retaining his father’s name on Cale Elementary School. A 12-member advisory committee is charged with “applying school division values” to the naming of schools and recommending changes to the School Board. Photo: Lisa Martin.

At the direction of Albemarle schools superintendent Matthew Haas, each of the 15 division schools that is named in honor of an individual (for example, J. T. Henley Middle School) will undergo a review of the name’s suitability in terms of “how faithful those designations are to the values of the school division,” according to a June county press release. Toward this end, a 12-member community advisory committee is currently reviewing the naming of Cale Elementary School, chosen in honor of long-time superintendent and former Crozet resident Paul H. Cale.

The naming review effort was triggered by an October 18, 2018, presentation by local filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson, web and social media specialist for the school division, on the history of desegregation in western district schools. Dickerson included a passage from a 1956 Commentary magazine article in which the author paraphrased Cale as saying that “[w]hite parents would not permit their children to receive instruction from inferior Negro teachers—and they were inferior.” 

Though Cale’s remarks in the article were made in the larger context of his frustration with resistance to integration from the local community, a statement issued by School Board chairwoman Kate Acuff on the same day reported the paraphrased comments as a direct quote and without context. In her statement, Acuff implied that Cale was complicit in a strategy of “massive resistance” to school integration and called for Haas to begin a review of the school naming process. 

The Cale Elementary advisory committee held its second meeting on June 18, inviting comment from members of the public about Paul Cale’s personal character and his tenure in the school system. About fifty people attended the meeting, held in Albemarle High School’s auditorium, and 17 of those spoke to the committee members arrayed on the stage. All but one speaker expressed strong support for both Cale’s reputation and actions as superintendent and for retaining Cale’s name on the school. When a speaker asked those in attendance to stand if they supported retaining Cale Elementary’s name, all but two people in the audience did so.

Many of the speakers were county high school graduates in the 1960s who had known Cale as a school leader and, later, personally. Dr. Jim Blackburn said, “Paul Cale is not a racist; the racists were people like [Senator Harry] Byrd and the governor and others who were forcing schools to close [rather than integrate]. That didn’t happen in Albemarle county and the reason was because of the leadership of Paul Cale. We should be figuring out ways to honor him, not change the school name.”

Fred Scott said, “Few things are worse than slander to a reputation …. When he was hired in 1957, the first thing he did was to publish an account of the appalling condition of African-American schools, truly awful conditions. His next act was to convince voters that they should increase their own tax burden so they could improve the African American schools and build additional schools. He exhibited personal courage during difficult times; he was a visionary who was not threatened by change.”

Betty Clayton said, “I’m an 84-year resident of Albemarle County and a lifelong friend of Paul Cale …. Please, record history in truth, and not in a lie. Record that he went to the homes of the black students and welcomed them to get enrolled and to come to the schools that were being integrated. To anyone who would smear the name of my friend Paul Cale, I have only two words to say—shame, shame.”

J. B. Hurt, son of longtime AHS principal Ben Hurt, said, “I knew Mr. Cale personally, growing up in the 70s and 80s in Crozet… In the same article containing the controversial comments, it’s noted that Albemarle County had recently built new schools for African American students that cost more per student than the schools for the white children, and that there was an emphasis on making sure that the education provided was equal. The article states that those things occurred in 1950, four years before Brown v. Board of Education, and who was Superintendent at that time? Paul Cale. A lot of people looked up to my dad; Paul Cale is who my dad looked up to.”

Lewis Johnson, the lone speaker who did not unequivocally support Cale, offered his view of the committee’s decision. “I am a member of the ‘Albemarle 26.’ I was one of the first black students to integrate county schools at Stone Robinson Elementary in 1963 …. I ask each one of you here tonight to challenge your heart. I did not know Mr. Cale, but if it was in his heart to be a hardened person, to block integration, I would change the name of the school. But if he was acting on someone else’s behalf to block integration or whatever, I would say do not change the name of the school.”

Cale’s son, Paul Cale Jr., was in attendance but did not speak to the committee. Members of the Cale family have been invited to speak at a special public meeting to be held on or around July 30. 

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