We are in the midst of a national conversation concerning who should be memorialized with statues or by having their names on street signs, buildings and parks.
Our first president, George Washington, a native son of Alexandria, is even being viewed with a fresh, critical eye. Last year, Alexandria’s historic Christ Church decided to remove Washington’s plaque, along with one of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, from its sanctuary.
Whether to remove the names of Confederate leaders from Alexandria street signs is also under review, and some street names are likely to be changed. “The Appomattox,” the statue of a weary, defeated Confederate soldier at the intersection of South Washington and Prince streets is another potential target for removal.
We think the general conversation is good, though we don’t advocate tossing aside all remembrances of past leaders because they were flawed. Whether to change names or remove statues should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
A triumphant statue of a Confederate soldier on a battle horse seems different than a statue of a defeated foot soldier, at least to us – though we recognize it may not be to others. It’s important to remember that there is a wide range of opinions on historic figures, and that no one has the market cornered on the absolute truth on this controversial topic.
As our front page story this week, “A cook’s forgotten civil rights stand,” illustrates, perhaps it’s time to add another name to the discussion about who should and shouldn’t be so honored: Thomas Chambliss – better known as “T.C.” – Williams. His opposition to school integration is well documented. And his crass firing of Blois Hundley, who had eight children and a disabled husband, in 1958 because she joined a lawsuit for school integration certainly begs the question of why his name continues to adorn Alexandria’s only public high school.
Williams was superintendent of schools in Alexandria from the mid-1930s into the 1960s. Though there is scant public information on Williams or his actions as superintendent – a Google search turns up page after page on T.C. Williams High School and basically nothing on the man behind the name – it is reasonable to assume he must have been highly regarded at the time to warrant being so honored.
But given his stand on integration, should our city’s only public high school – which as of the 2017-18 school year was 22 percent white and fully 78 percent minority, according to the Alexandria City Public Schools website – continue to bear his name? At a minimum, a full-blown, public conversation about this is long overdue. After all, T.C. Williams is not a long-dead combatant in a war, but someone whose actions directly – and negatively – impacted the lives of people who are still with us today.
Longtime community leader Ferdinand Day was a wonderful name for the new West End school. He’s not the only Alexandrian deserving of being so honored. We shouldn’t let the fact that Hollywood made an idealized movie about our high school lead us to continue memorializing a man who doesn’t appear to deserve the honor.
Let’s change the name of T.C. Williams High School.