The Student Commons at the new T.C. Williams High School was named for Ferdinand Day on Sunday. On Monday, Day had the opportunity to return to the school and have lunch in the commons with current students.
Jordan Beasley, a sophomore, sai
d, I didnt know who Mr. Day was before the interview, but now that Ive sat down and asked him questions, I definitely have a better understanding of who he is and why we named our Student Commons after him. He was a great pleasure to talk to, and I found him very inspirational. Im very glad I got the pleasure of talking to him and I walked away from him with a smile on my face, Jordan said.
Day was born Aug. 7, 1918, delivered by a midwife at his familys home on St. Asaph Street in Alexandria. I was born in Old Town, but it wasnt the same Old Town we know today, Day said.
He grew up in a segregated city, which he had to leave after the eighth grade. In those days, Virginia didnt educate black children after the eighth grade. We had to go across the river into Washington to go to high school, Day said.
From high school, Day went on to a teachers college in Washington. I wanted to come home to Alexandria and teach, he said.
His teaching career in Alexandria began and ended as a substitute teacher in a civics class. One of his students showed him a civics book with the name of the students white friend in it black students got hand-me-down books that were no longer being used by their white counterparts.
I saw that as a teachable moment and called the class over to the window, Day said.
He asked them to look out the window and tell him who they saw on the street. They saw a white electrician, a white delivery man and a black garbage truck driver.
I told them to go back to their desks and concentrate on their studies if they ever wanted to have a good job, Day said. They didnt ask me back to teach.
The Alexandria school systems loss was the State Departments gain. Day thrived there and traveled around the country speaking to various people. He also remained active in Alexandria, serving on the Alexandria School Board and as a member of the Secret Seven.
This was a black shadow government that monitored what was happening in Alexandria and whose members expressed opinions on a variety of topics. Each of us had our own area of expertise and commented only on those areas, Day said. Mine was education, so I spoke on education. There were others who knew public housing, and so on.
The group met at 9 p.m. in the old George Mason Hotel. That is where we met until we realized our meetings were being taped, Day said.
The Secret Seven met for about 25 years. There are only three members of the group still alive, all living in Alexandria: Day, Melvin Miller and Nelson Greene.
Things have certainly changed since those days, and I hope they have changed to some degree because of what we did, Day said.
He says he is encouraged by what he saw at T.C. and believes that the students there have a very bright future as does Alexandria as a whole. I like to tell everyone that Alexandria is my dream city on the Potomac, Day said.
Amina Uwwais is a T.C. junior who didnt know why the commons was named for Day but who will never forget him now.
He was awesome and he really gave me some great advice, she said.
Rebecca Newsham contributed to this article. She is a senior at T.C. Williams High School and is an intern at The Alexandria Times.