Obama's Name to Replace Jefferson Davis' on Mississippi School

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Former President Barack Obama speaks in New York on Sept. 20.Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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By Dan Corey

A public elementary school in Mississippi named after the president of the Confederacy will be renamed to honor the first black president of the United States.

Davis Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary in Jackson, which is named for Jefferson Davis, will be renamed Barack Obama Magnet International Baccalaureate Elementary beginning next school year, the school's PTA president, Janelle Jefferson, said at a Jackson Public Schools Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night.

The prospect of changing the name of what Jefferson called the best elementary school in Mississippi was raised by a student, she told NBC News.

"They know who [Davis] was and what he stood for," she said. "This has a great impact on them, because [Obama] is who they chose out of anybody else they could. This is the person that the whole school supported. He was their Number One choice."

The PTA asked the Davis Magnet community to submit suggestions for the new name, Jefferson said. Parents, students and school staff were given two weeks to submit recommendations, and they voted using paper ballots on Oct. 5.

Students from every class researched and gave presentations about their candidates at an assembly before the vote, Jefferson said. The decision to name the school after Obama was made on Oct. 6.

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School buildings must be named "for persons of good character and prominence who have made outstanding contributions to the school system," according to the school board's facility-naming policy. "A facility named to honor a person shall not be renamed except for compelling reasons."

Former President Barack Obama speaks in New York on Sept. 20.Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

"Every generation has a right to choose how it represents itself," Jake McGraw, public policy coordinator the University of Mississippi's William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, told NBC News. "Having a school where there was input from parents, teachers and students — along with the school board — it seems like a model for how these decisions should be approached across the country."

About 98 percent of current Davis students are black, Jefferson said.

The students chose Obama because they were alive during his administration and felt that he shared their principles, Jefferson said.

McGraw said: "It shows that we don't need to shy away from exploring these controversial topics. It's important not just in the symbolism of an elementary school, but here we're having a real genuine examination of our history in an elementary school — within the broader school system in Jackson — which is exactly where it needs to happen."

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It's unknown how expensive the name change will be, she said.

"Our parents are movers and shakers, so I know that we can rise to the occasion to raise those funds to make sure we can implement the name change," she said.

The name change was announced amid a nationwide debate over the removal of Confederate statues across the country, along with name changes for buildings honoring racially charged figures from U.S. history.

The dispute over removing Confederate statues was at the center of protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, in which one woman died and 19 other people were injured.

"When you realize who this school is named for, I think that it's a positive thing to be a part of this movement," Jefferson said. "We want what's best for our kids. We want our kids to identify with persons who they can relate to."