School renaming proposals throughout the county are gaining momentum in the wake of the recent murders in an African American church in South Carolina by an avowed racist who identified with the Confederacy. That shooting led to the efforts to remove the Confederate flag from Southern state capitols and license plates.
“I was very impressed with the group of Stuart students I met with recently who are interested in pursuing a name change for Stuart and appreciated the research they’d done and the thoughtfulness with which they approached their advocacy,” Evans says. A video by Anna Rowan and other Stuart students who support the name change is on You Tube.
“I’ve heard from other individuals who believe a change is warranted, while others have told me they support keeping the name,” Evans says.
An online petition by Stuart Alumni for Change to rename Stuart has so far gotten 1,120 signatures.
|An old Stuart HS logo.|
According to the petition, “The students that walk the hallowed halls of our school in 2015 are a more diverse group than ever, and they deserve a school name that represents something more germane to where we are today, not represented by Confederate history that was recycled in the 1950s for a hateful purpose: to hurt and shame black youth that were, by court order, integrated into our county’s white school system.”
A similar online petition created by Amanda Miller of People Demanding Action and Lake Barcroft resident Stephen Spitz urges the school board to rename Stuart for Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice. Marshall had previously argued for school integration in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.
Meanwhile, 1,902 people signed a counter petition to retain existing names of Fairfax County schools. Many of those who signed are FCPS alumni who cite the need to preserve tradition and history.
Alumni for Change was launched by Lisa McQuail (Stuart Class of 1978) and Jeff Parker (Stuart Class of 1975). Parker, a historian, reports that the decision to name Stuart High School for a Confederate general, James Ewell Brown “JEB” Stuart, was made during the late 1950s when Virginia officials were carrying out a policy of “massive resistance” against racial integration.
Hollywood film director and producer Bruce Cohen (“American Beauty”), who graduated from Stuart in 1979, is the president of Alumni for Change. Director Tom Shadyac (“Ace Ventura”), a 1975 graduate, has joined the campaign, as has the Fairfax County NAACP chapter.
McQuail, who is white and counts several Confederate soldiers among her ancestors, refers to the Confederate imagery during her years at Stuart in the 1970s as “a pageant of hate.” There were Confederate flags on football uniforms, and every time Stuart scored a touchdown, someone dressed as a Confederate soldier rode around the stadium, she says.
There was a perception that black kids were only tolerated because they were good at sports and were not eligible for the homecoming court, talent show, or other activities, McQuail recalls.
By 1974, there was a black history club, and its efforts to create a float for the homecoming parade (featuring Hannibal crossing the Alps) were met with ridicule by white students, she says. That led to “a race riot,” and police brought in reinforcements to quell the violence. A psychotherapist was subsequently assigned to the school to help reduce racial tensions. “That helped, but it wasn’t quite enough because so much damage had already been done,” she says.
While the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in 1954, Fairfax County public schools weren’t fully integrated until the early 1970s. At the time, a slew of white-only private schools were developed, while school officials, including then-Superintendent W.T. Woodson, fought against integration.
“The pageant of hate was designed to make black students feel uncomfortable in our integrated school,” McQuail says. “Schools all over the South were named for Confederate heroes, they had Confederate mascots and flags. People were ridiculed and intimidated. We had everything but the white sheets and burning cross.”
“It’s completely unacceptable that we still have schools named for Confederate heroes,” she says. “It legitimizes racial hatred.”
While the Alumni for Change petition currently calls for renaming all FCPS schools named for Confederate generals, such as Robert E. Lee High School, or segregationists, like Woodson High School, the group is refining its mission to focus on Stuart. It also supports changing the school’s name to honor Marshall.
Marshall lived in Lake Barcroft from 1968 until he died, in 1993, and his widow, Cecilia still lives there. Lake Barcroft is in Stuart’s service area. JEB Stuart, on the other hand, is from what is now West Virginia.
Retaining the Stuart name and the Confederate image is “embarrassing and shameful and totally inappropriate for the 21 century,” says Spitz, while renaming the school for Marshall would create “a teachable moment” about Marshall’s role in promoting integration.
In response to critics of the name change who say Fairfax County already has a Marshall High School (named for Secretary of State and Marshall Plan architect George C. Marshall), Spitz says“that shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle.” To avoid confusion, “call Stuart ‘Justice Marshall High School,’” he suggests, noting that there already are two schools named Bailey’s.
Others have raised objections that renaming Stuart would lead to proposals to rename everything else named for a Confederate or slave owner – such as Thomas Jefferson High School, Madison High School, and even Lee Highway.
“I’m not proposing any other school be renamed. This is just about Stuart,” Spitz says. Critics who raise those arguments are claiming that those advocating a name change are trying to “erase history,” he says. By honoring Marshall, “we’re trying to teach history.”