Nearly every person at an Albemarle County meeting Tuesday evening showed unqualified support for keeping Paul Cale’s name on a local elementary school.
An advisory committee held its second of four meetings about whether to recommend a name change for Cale Elementary School. Person after person, nearly all former students who studied under Cale, described him as a kind and honorable person. They pushed back on a recently resurfaced report that he had doubted integration of local schools and denigrated African American educators.
“The things said about Mr. Cale are certainly in error,” said Betty Clayton, whose family attended Greenwood School when Cale was principal there. “A racist Paul Cale? Absolutely not. He was one of the finest teachers and finest principals anyone could dream of having.”
The debate comes amid a national debate of whether to rename schools and monuments and how to remember officials who worked during slavery and segregation. The University of Virginia’s education school is considering whether to change its name, which currently honors Confederate officer Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry. In October, the Staunton School Board voted to rename R. E. Lee High School.
Cale worked at Greenwood from 1935 to 1947 and was superintendent of Albemarle County Schools from 1947 to 1969. The elementary school was named after him shortly after his death in 1987.
Recently, local filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson uncovered a 1956 article in the magazine “Commentary” about desegregation in Virginia.
“White parents would not permit their children to receive instruction from inferior Negro teachers — and they were inferior,” Cale told the writer, discussing the difficulty of such an effort in Albemarle.
Integration of white and black students might be an option in big cities, but it was “not possible” in Albemarle, Cale said. Scattered African American communities in Albemarle County would make busing too difficult, and white parents would likely remove their children from integrated schools, forcing wide closures.
As the state pursued its Massive Resistance strategy, Charlottesville City Schools closed in 1958 rather than admit African American students, only to reopen a year later with the “Charlottesville Twelve” in attendance.
Cale, however, kept Albemarle schools open by keeping them segregated and by building two new African American elementary schools. Finally, in 1963, the first black students attended previously all-white county schools.
Lewis Johnson was one of those 26 students, and he was recently honored with a marker outside Albemarle High School. He attended Stone-Robinson Elementary School and recalled watching teachers pass white students while holding numerous black students back, even if they made good grades.
“I made all A’s and B’s for three quarters straight. In the last quarter, straight F’s,” Johnson said. “And then we found out it was not only myself, but other blacks who went to that school were retained in their grade because they came from the colored school.”
Johnson said he did not know Cale, but that if anyone had insight that proved Cale had tried to block integration and block the progress of black students, the committee should recommend a name change.
“If it was not in his heart, or if he was just acting on someone else’s behalf, I would say do not change the name of the school,” he said. “But if it was in his heart to be a hardened person, to block integration, I would say change the name of the school. But I leave it up to you, the committee.”
Cale’s family has been asked to speak at the committee’s next meeting, but Cale’s son Paul Cale Jr. did respond to Johnson’s statement at the end of the meeting.
“I can tell you what my dad’s heart was, and he was not a racist,” he said.
Paul Cale Jr.’s wife, Jan, spoke during a public comment, calling her father-in-law a “moral compass” and respected by many, including Waldo Johnson, an African American teacher at Burley High School and Albemarle High School.
Jan Cale cited a letter from Johnson to Paul Cale Sr. that cites an “informative and frank” meeting in 1956, the same year as the Commentary article’s publication.
“One would believe that his most formidable task during that transitional era was to smoothly engineer the integration of schools,” Johnson wrote, praising Cale’s efforts of balancing all constituents. “He transformed that which should be changed, transcended that which he could not, and endured the difficulties which were quite prevalent.”
Other speakers said they had felt that integration occurred smoothly and without incident at their schools. They felt that Cale’s words, as quoted in the article, did not accurately reflect his actions or had been taken out of context. One speaker asked those who supported Cale and wanted to keep his name on the school to stand. Nearly everyone in the audience — about 45 people — did so.
“To conclude that integration would be difficult in Albemarle County is a fact that no one at the time would dispute,” said Martha Anderson, referring to Cale’s words in the article. “It was hardly a racist comment, just a fact; that was just the way it was. Considering that many schools closed, including Charlottesville schools, the leadership of the county must have been doing something right.”
Anderson said she had no doubt that one of the black students who first attended school with her was afraid and might have been bullied, but that she believed Cale and longtime principal Benjamin Hurt would have protected any student. Similarly, she said, she thought Cale’s comments about African American teachers reflected the limited training and opportunities some had had, and did not reflect a belief of racial inferiority.
“He was a visionary and truly cared about all the children he was entrusted with,” she said.
The advisory committee has asked Cale’s family to speak at the next meeting, to be held on July 29 or 30.