Virginia NAACP Head Snubs African-American State School Superintendent Pick

The most recent edition of the Richmond Free Press (no link available) features an article with the headline of “NAACP cool to Cannaday.” Apparently, the Virginia branch of the historic civil rights organization is lukewarm about Gov. Kaine’s selection of respected African-American educator, Dr. Billy Cannaday, as Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Commonwealth. Cannaday, who will finish out the school year as head of Chesterfield’s school system, initially drew the ire of the NAACP three years ago for refusing to close county schools in honor of the Martin Luther King holiday. After a career in the Hampton School system, Dr. Cannaday made history as the first African-American superintendent in the history of majority-white Chesterfield County, and with this appointment he will become the first African American to hold the statewide position. He is widely-regarded as an effective leader and top-notch educator.

Apparently, this is not enough to assuage the doubts of King Salim Khalfani, head of the Virginia NAACP. He told Free Press reporters that “normally when a person of African descent is appointed to a high-ranking position, I would be enthusiastic or even celebratory. Not this time,” though he acknowledged that the county NAACP chapter “had nothing negative to report” about Dr. Cannaday’s performance. Thus, some three years after the King Day snafu – when Cannaday decided to keep Chesterfield kids in school to ensure that the system met its instructional time requirements – time has not yet healed the wounds that Mr. Khalfani feels were caused by this move.

The Free Press article ran during the same week as a Washington Post report which explored how black students in Fairfax County – the wealthiest community in Virginia – lagged woefully behind their counterparts in other districts, even those from lesser-regarded schools in poorer communities such as those found in Metro Richmond. Ironically, under Cannaday’s watch, black students in Chesterfield performed at or above the level of black students statewide. Though Chesterfield’s black students were outperformed by the county’s white students, on balance, those black students (who comprise over 20% of the school system’s population) met the relevant state and federal targets for student testing performance.

Additionally, Cannaday has been lauded by the Chesterfield School Board for his 6-year tenure there, where he oversaw increased enrollments, curricular changes, and new construction. His work in that county culminated in him being named “Superintendent of the Year” for the entire Commonwealth in 2005 by his peers. These accomplishments – which should be attributed more to the content of Cannaday’s character than the color of his skin – were not noted by the Free Press article or in the comments of the Virginia NAACP official.

The bottom line is that while the leader of the Virginia NAACP was busy nursing a grudge against him, Dr. Cannaday simply did his job well, which resulted in better outcomes for black students under his watch. He can be expected to bring those same talents to bear on the entire Commonwealth, ensuring that all Virginia students get a chance to excel. After such a lukewarm reception, it remains to be seen whether the Virginia NAACP chooses to work with Cannaday or against him. One has to wonder just what Dr. King would think about that.

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9 responses to “Virginia NAACP Head Snubs African-American State School Superintendent Pick”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    “Normally when a person of white descent is appointed to a high-ranking position, I would be enthusiastic or even celebratory.”

    What is wrong with the sentence above? Why?

  2. Avatar

    JAB: While it’s easy to simplify that sentiment by making a substitution of “white” for “African,” it really misses the historical context of the achievement. Seriously, this is still the South and blacks rising to positions of power – on their merit – is becoming more part and parcel of daily life. But, just 40 years ago, public schools systems shut their doors rather than desegregate, and it’s only been since 1970 that schools were fully legally integrated. Cannaday advancing to this job, as well as his previous one, based on his top-shelf management skills is a triumph for black AND white Virginians.

    Whether we like it or not, race still matters in our society, just less than usual. That’s why my post was critical of the NAACP head’s comments.

    – Conaway

  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    If Cannaday is excellence in education and a boon to that position, then it is victory for Virginians. Period.

    The adjective denoting the color of the Virginians is superflous (sp) at best and divisive at worst.

    Race matters for those who linger in prejudice or who profit from it.

    New minorities of Asians and Hispanics are Virginians. They didn’t do 400 years of slavery,segregation and racism, yet will news stories for the next 100 years talk about the First ‘fill in the blank’ Whatever?

  4. Avatar

    In 100 years, I hope it won’t matter at all. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be around then, but here’s to wishful thinking!

    As for race, I choose to neither linger in prejudice, nor profit from it. Rather, I just call it as I see it.

    11:27 PM

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    The only way to make race no matter 100 years from now is to stop using it as if it matters today.

    How does race matter in the public square today? Other than the Voting Rights Act impositions on Virginia?

  6. Virginia Centrist Avatar
    Virginia Centrist


    Why shouldn’t race matter? It’s a fact that people identify culturally with people of their own race. Why should we just pretend that the color of someone’s skin is irrelevant?

    Biologically, race is irrelevant(although tests have shown higher susceptibility to diseases amongst the various races).

    But culturally? Socially? Is there an advantage to covering our ears, saying “na-na-na-na-na!” and pretending that race doesn’t exist?

  7. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    VC: You missed the point. Tell us how race does matter in the public square in Virginia.

    Our Nation is built on the premise of individual rights and responsibilities. The one error in the Constitution referring to slaves as a group was corrected by referring to their individual rights in the 13th and 14th amendments.

    The politics of racial identity are the politics of racism.

    The victory over slavery and de jure segregation was that race shouldn’t exist, have legal relevance, under the Rule of Law.

  8. Virginia Centrist Avatar
    Virginia Centrist

    What if people of different races CHOOSE to be treated differently? Not worse, not better, but differently? Don’t they have that freedom?

    By the way – the worst violation of the rights of minorities today on the macro level (forgeting incidents of police mistreatment) is the use of the voting rights act to delude black voting power.

  9. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    VC: Your responses are humorous – of course.

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