When the Alexandria Times made the case to remove the name T.C. Williams from the city’s only high school almost three years ago, in an editorial that concluded “Let’s change the name of T.C. Williams High School,” we had no idea if or when such a change might occur.
Our proposal was affirmed two years and nine months later, after increasing numbers of people in the community advocated for change, when the Alexandria School Board voted unanimously on Nov. 23 to rename T.C. Williams High School. The board also voted to remove the name Matthew Maury from the Rosemont elementary school that bears his moniker.
That March 22, 2018 editorial was paired with the first of three groundbreaking investigative pieces written by Times contributor Jim McElhatton about the integration of Alexandria’s public schools,* for which McElhatton won multiple well-deserved awards.
McElhatton’s stories proved, beyond doubt, that five years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in “Brown v. Board of Education” that segregated schools were uncon- stitutional, Williams still actively opposed the integration of Alexandria’s schools.
It was time to remove the name T.C. Williams from a school that was 69% Black or Hispanic and only 24% white as of November 2019, according to the ACPS website, and we applaud the school board for its vote.
It’s important to note that removing Williams’ name from this building does not “cancel” him as a person, for he served this community for 30 years as superintendent, and was well-regarded enough in his time to have his name chosen to adorn the new high school in the early 1960s.
Williams is an example that we are all a mixture of good and bad. But as School Board member Michelle Rief said at the Nov. 23 meeting, “We can’t change history, but we can change what history we choose to publicly honor.” It was the right decision to cease honoring Williams.
It’s also important to remember that there are many in our community, particularly older Alexandria public school graduates, who opposed this name change. They presented their cases in numerous well-reasoned and, we believe, well-intentioned letters that appeared on these pages in recent years. While we disagree with their perspective, we also appreciate that this change will, for them, entail a sense of loss.
Changing the high school’s name won’t erase the many accomplishments of those who graduated from T.C. Williams High School, just as the accomplishments of baseball Hall of Fame members Walter Johnson and Bucky Harris – who led the Washington Senators to the 1924 World Series championship – weren’t forgotten just because the team eventually moved to Minnesota and was renamed.
In fact, we think a way to affirm the diversity of the school, which has students from 120 countries, is to rename it “Boone-Yoast High School.” This name would commemorate the two coaches, Herman Boone and Bill Yoast, one Black and one white, whose collaboration resulted in the school being immortalized in the Disney movie “Remember the Titans,” which was a paean to integration.
Changing the school’s name to honor someone who better reflects who we are as a community in the 2020s does not change this truth: “Once a Titan, always a Titan.”
* “A school cook’s forgotten civil rights stand,” March 22, 2018; “The homeless man who made Alexandria civil rights history,” May 3, 2018; “The day two sisters proved T.C. Williams wrong,” Jan. 31, 2019.