Should a High School be Renamed?

JEBHigh

You may have heard of the effort to renamed J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, VA to Thurgood Marshall High School. Here’s a good news story on the effort.

This effort is not an outgrowth of the Charleston, South Carolina shootings. The students began the effort in May, prior to the shootings. The article tells us, “The students at J.E.B. Stuart had started their campaign even before the shooting. They were inspired after learning in their history class about Stuart and about the massive resistance movement in the 1950s.” The high school opened in 1959, in the midst of white southern massive resistance to desegregation of schools. As we find out in the story, “Those advocating for its name to be dropped believe the school was purposely named after a Confederate general in response and in opposition to desegregation.”

Since the Charleston shootings, some high-profile alumni of the school joined the effort to change the name. Julianne Moore. a 1978 graduate, and Bruce Cohen, a 1979 graduate, support changing the school’s name. The two wrote in a joint statement, “No one should have to apologize for the name of the public high school you attended and the history of racism it represents, as we and so many alumni of Stuart have felt the need to do our whole lives.”

Stuart was a slave owner and an officer who fought for the confederacy, an entity whose purpose was to preserve slavery and white supremacy.

George Alber, speaking for the local NAACP [The Fairfax County NAACP is allied with the students and alumni], said, “We’re not trying to re-write or erase history. There’s plenty of room for history in the museums. It’s fitting that a school this diverse should carry a different name, not a name for someone who fought and died to preserve slavery and let’s face it, racism.”

One of the students behind the campaign said, “People will say you can’t erase history and we say back that this is nothing to do with changing the past, we’re not telling you to get rid of anything in the textbook. We’re telling you that we want from now and into the future a school to be an environment where the students can feel more comfortable and can be completely proud of all the symbols representing them.”

They believe Thurgood Marshall is a good choice to replace Stuart because Justice Marshall lived in the area and was one of the school’s neighbors from 1968 to his 1993 death. His was, in fact, one of the first African-American families to live in the area [in their own home] “to the dismay of some at the time.”

You can see and, if you wish, sign the online petition calling for the change here.

Where do you stand on this?

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8 comments

  1. Institutions like schools other institutions named for Confederates (e.g., Fort Hood in my state) present a different question than simple monuments, because regardless of the circumstances in which they were originally named, the institution has a history of its own, separate from its namesake. There are undoubtedly some students at J.E.B. Stuart High School whose parents and grandparents graduated from there. That shared identity figures into the equation, too. It’s not an easy call.

    1. True, Andy, not an easy call, but it seems to me the current students should have the most say, followed by the alumni.

      1. I agree — it’s a decision that needs to be made by that school’s community.

  2. Bob Nelson · · Reply

    A district should be able to change the name of its HS or the team mascot/nickname if it is acceptable to the students, the community and the school board. It happens all the time. Nathan Bedford Forrest HS in Jacksonville (also built and named in 1959) was renamed Westside HS in 2014. If you Google “Nathan Bedford Forrest High School,” “Robert E. Lee High School,” “Jefferson Davis High School,” “Stonewall Jackson High School” or others named for ex-Confederates, you’ll find that there really aren’t very many any more.

    Some have subtly changed while others haven’t. Robert E. Lee HS in Baytown, TX is generally known as Lee High School while the HS in Midland, TX is still Robert E. Lee High School and it’s sports teams are the Rebels. Then you have Robert E. Lee High School, what appears by their web page to be a predominantly black school in Jacksonville, FL. Their sports teams are known as the Generals and I can’t find anything relative to this particular school about changing it’s name or the name of the mascot.

    I think the near future of park names, school names and monuments dedicated to former Confederate generals will largely turn on what happens to NBF Park in Memphis. If the bodies of NBD and his wife are reinterred to the cemetery where they were once buried and the park is renamed, I think it will provide a major impetus for more change in the South and perhaps rather quick change. Some of you young folks will be around for the CW bicentennial. I certainly won’t but I am betting that by 2061 all of this Confederate hoopla will be a thing of the past.

  3. Ben Butina · · Reply

    I take Andy’s point about multi-generational identity, but have any of the students themselves or their relatives brought this up? (I ask, because it’s the only decent argument I’ve heard in favor of keeping the name.)

    1. The movement to change the name was started by students at the school.

      1. Ben Butina · · Reply

        Yes, of course. That’s very clear. My question was about the issue of multi-generational shared identity that Andy raised. Have any students raised *that* concern, or is that something we’re imagining on their behalf?

        1. Ah, I understand now. I don’t know of any students who brought that up, but there have been comments from older graduates of the school.

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