By Lindsey Sullivan | [email protected]times.com
After a months-long process that began this summer, the Alexandria School Board voted unanimously to approve the renaming of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School at its Nov. 23 meeting.
Many Alexandria community members have been calling for the renaming of T.C. Williams for years but have been unsuccessful until now. Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D., attributed the recent success to the growing support and high student engagement that has occurred over the past several months.
“I think it means a lot to this community because if we asked people back in June what they knew about Thomas Chambliss Williams or what they knew about Matthew Maury, many people wouldn’t have a response,” Hutchings said. “But I can tell you today, especially with our young people, they do know who these individuals were and why these names should not be plastered on our schools.”
The conversation to rename the school received renewed attention alongside of the growing outcry across the nation for racial justice following the death of George Floyd in June.
T.C. Williams High School opened in 1965 and was named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, an ACPS superintendent who served from the 1930s to 1963 and resisted the racial integration of Alexandria schools following the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in “Brown v. Board of Education.”
Maury Elementary was named in 1929 after Matthew Maury, who is known as “the father of modern oceanography and naval meteorology” and was also a member of the Confederate army, according to the ACPS website. Maury was a proslavery internationalist who represented the Confederate cause in Europe and even tried to create a new Virginia settlement in Mexico where slavery could continue after the Civil War ended.
“Some people may argue that changing these names is somehow changing history or erasing it. I disagree,” board member Michelle Rief said. “We can’t change history, but we can change what history we choose to publicly honor.”
Rief said that names of places and buildings are a reflection of community values, adding that she believes the values of the time when these schools were named do not reflect the Alexandria community’s current values.
“One of those values was that Black and white children learn differently and shouldn’t attend school together,” Rief said. “That was wrong, and now we have an opportunity to right that wrong.”
Several of the school board members and faculty wore bright blue t-shirts during the meeting with the words “excellence, equity, engagement, empowerment” printed on them to display their support for the decision.
The school board will decide on new names for the two schools at a later date, and the name changes will take effect in the 2021-2022 academic year