|Alice Jackson Stuart|
Those who want to keep the name point to the need to preserve the school’s historic legacy, while those in favor of changing the name say it’s no longer appropriate for a school to be named in honor of a Confederate general and slave holder who committed treason by fighting for secession.
For some people, the main issue is about the cost of renaming the school.
To reduce expenses – such as the need to buy new uniforms and the like – a proposal was raised at a school board work session July 17 to drop “JEB” and refer to the school as Stuart High School in honor of the entire Stuart family. Another suggestion called for renaming the school for Gilbert Stuart, the early American portrait painter.
A group of people in favor of a name change has come up with another option: rename the school for Alice Jackson Stuart, a distinguished educator and civil rights pioneer from Virginia.
Debbie Ratliff, a Stuart parent, wrote to school board members and FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand July 17 on behalf of a coalition of parents, students, alumni, and others who support changing the name that renaming the school “Stuart High School” is no change at all. And while Gilbert Stuart is a prominent figure, he has no connection to Virginia.
|Stuart as a young graduate|
As the first African American to apply to the University of Virginia graduate school, Alice Jackson Stuart (1913-2001) helped pave the way for other African Americans in the commonwealth to access higher education.
Shortly after her death, the Virginia Senate approved a joint resolution to honor her. In 2012, she was posthumously honored as one of the Library of Virginia’s “Virginia Women in History” in recognition of her life’s work.
Alice Jackson Stuart received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia Union University in 1934 and a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1939. She taught English at public schools in Richmond and at several institutions of higher education, including Bethune-Cookman College, Howard University, Medical College of Virginia, Rutgers State University, and Middlesex County College. She also worked as a freelance writer and educational research specialist.
Fairfax County Public Schools doesn’t have a single high school named after a woman or a person of color, Ratliff points out. Renaming JEB Stuart High School for Alice Jackson Stuart would be “a landmark event that will inspire future generations of students,” she says.
Ratliff also notes that while a possible new name for Stuart High School was discussed at the July 17 school board work session, FCPS policy and practice calls for school names to be selected with community input.