The first moves toward changing the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Fairfax, Va. began on July 27, following a vote by members of the community’s school board.
Citing a need to broaden and educate the larger community about the history and legacy of racism and intolerance in the area, the Fairfax County School Board was pressured by members of an Ad Hoc Committee composed of students, parents, community leaders and teachers, to remove the name of the Confederate general.
“The name ‘J.E.B. Stuart’ does not reflect the values of our community as expressed by our student leaders, parents, and by the Fairfax County School Board that has affirmed a ‘commitment to maintaining a safe, inclusive and welcome learning environment for all children in our public school system,’” members of the Ad Hoc Committee said in a statement to the board. “It is antithetical to Fairfax County’s policy and position on diversity and inclusion to continue to have a school in our community named after a man who took up arms in defense of the enslavement of four million people and their descendants.”
Stuart was a general in the Confederate Army who famously is blamed for contributing to Gen. Robert E. Lee’s loss to the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg.
The board agreed to change the name no later than the start of the 2019 school year, and are currently seeking public and private solutions to cover the nearly $700,000 cost of changing the name on public markers.
“The cost of changing the name became a divergent bit of the conversation at one point because many people voiced concerns that the county cannot afford to pay for the name change—even if they agreed that it should be changed,” Fairfax County resident Glenn Hewitt told the AFRO. “Just like the removal of Whites Only signs decades ago, the costs must be paid [and] the removal is necessary, so, it really was not a legitimate reason not to rename Stuart.”
Additionally, a public meeting is scheduled to be held at the school on Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. to solicit new names for consideration and extend an opportunity for additional dialogue. The top three name choices will then be voted on during an election scheduled on Sept. 16.
Opponents of the name change said that other measures to ensure diversity and inclusion would have better served the school and community at large, noting that only 35 percent of school stakeholders agreed with the name change.
“We recommend the [Fairfax County School Board] move quickly to heal our community and school by broadening campus art and iconography to better reflect the diversity of the school in keeping with the values found in [school board publications],” opponents of the change said in a statement.
“The changers are playing loose with the facts and resorting to derision when challenged with truths,” the statement said. “We can expand the factual historical narrative as did Princeton University [regarding controversy that President Wilson was a segregationist] and as advocated by Christy Coleman, CEO, American Civil War Museum. Coleman believes in ‘helping the public examine and ponder the complexity of American history, a critical component to better understanding our current experience and future trajectory as a nation.’”
With a victory in hand, however, Hewitt and others said their plans for Fairfax include stripping any remaining vestiges of prejudice from public spaces—and the Stuart name had to go.
“It’s a new day and a changing of the guard,” Hewitt told the AFRO. “Our kids deserve to be in schools where they don’t have to be reminded of a slave legacy or the segregation that made their parents second-class citizens. This is a victory and move towards a brighter future.”