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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Stuart community discusses pros and cons of changing high school's name

School board member Sandy Evans speaks at a community meeting at Stuart High School.
Members of the Stuart High School community filled the school’s cafeteria Monday night to talk about whether Stuart should be renamed.

This was the first step in a process initiated by the Fairfax County School Board in a community engagement process on a potential name change. In 2015, students, alumni, and local residents began pressing the school board to change the name because they felt it’s no longer appropriate for a school to honor JEB Stuart, a Confederate general.

Members of the Stuart community consider the implications of changing the school's name.
Fabio Zuluaga, FCPS assistant superintendent for Region 2, told participants at the May 23 meeting to discuss and write down the benefits and challenges of changing the name and offer general feedback.

The school board will post the comments online, then will figure out what the next step should be, says school board member Sandy Evans (Mason District).

The original plan for the meeting called for a discussion of possible alternative names for the school. That didn’t happen, as the school board determined the first priority should be determining whether the name should be changed or not. Acording to Evans, “people were not comfortable soliciting names.”

An FCPS survey found overwhelming opposition to a name change, but that didn’t deter those who want a change. Several people said the survey doesn’t truly reflect public opinion, and that the issue should not be decided on the basis of a flawed survey.

“The decision to change the name of JEB Stuart HS is not a plebiscite,” states a handout from a group who supports a name change. “Justice, equality, and human rights are never served when the rights of the minority are subject to the whims of the majority.”

According to the survey results, 56 percent of 3,414 respondents oppose changing the name of Stuart High School, and 35 percent support a name change. Eight percent had no opinion.

Left to right: Bruce Cohen, school board chair Pat Hynes, and school board member Sandy Evans.
The survey is just “one tool” for gauging public opinion, Evans told the Annandale Blog. “We did our best to get the survey to parents, students, teachers, alumni, and community members.” Civic associations in the Stuart attendance area were supposed to distribute the survey to residents, but not all of them did. Also, the school doesn’t have complete contact information for alumni.

Evans said she was “impressed with the conversations” going on at the meeting. “People were being very thoughtful and interacting with each other.” She encourages people to email her their comments on a name change. She’s already received lots of “long, involved, passionate letters from people on both sides.” 

Most of the negative comments Evans heard are about the costs associated with a name change. “That is a legitimate question,” she says. According to FCPS, a name change could cost as much as $778,000, including signage, scoreboards, logos, and sports and band uniforms.

Bruce Cohen, the Hollywood producer and Stuart alum who supports a name change, says, “I’m here because I loved JEB Stuart High School my whole life and I feel the name is wrong and it’s time to change it.” An online petition posted by Cohen and former classmate Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore has so far gotten more than 34,800 signatures.

Cohen, who was in the area visiting his parents in Lake Barcroft, believes the survey results should not be a deciding factor. “If a small segment of the school’s students are offended or hurt by everything that the school’s name stands for, that should be enough.”

“If you look at social justice issues, 35 percent is more than enough to initiate change,” he says.

Logo on a cafeteria table.
When Cohen attended Stuart in the 1970s, the Stuart mascot waved the Confederate flag around; it was on the center of the basketball court and on the letter jackets, but no one understood what that meant, he says. “None of us knew the history of the school’s name, that it was named in reaction to Brown v. the Board of Education. Ignorance is not an excuse.”

It was only after the massacre at an African American church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015 by a white supremacist flaunting a Confederate flag that the symbolism “struck a chord with people,” he says.

At Stuart, Cohen was in the drama club, was 10th and 11th grade class president, and was voted “most likely to succeed,” he recalls. His upcoming projects include a boxing movie, “Bleed for This,” to open on Thanksgiving, and a miniseries about the LBGT movement set to air on ABC next February.

“I understand and appreciate the concerns about costs,” but changing the name is “the right thing to do,” says Kofi Annan, a member of the Fairfax County NAACP. The cost issue can be addressed by phasing in the name change, but it needs to be done to “accommodate the concerns of all citizens,” he says. “It’s an important symbolic change.”

A name change is “long overdue,” says Stanley Chin, a parent, who noted that the school was named for Stuart as a result of Virginia’s refusal to integrate schools after Brown.

Another Stuart parent and name change proponent, Kenneth Longmyer, wants Stuart to be named for Barbara Rose Johns, who as a teenager fought for school integration in Prince Edward County, Va. Several other name change advocates would like to see the school named for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had argued the Brown case before the Supreme Court and lived in Lake Barcroft. 

Stuart senior Mena Mohamed, who’s heading to Georgetown in the fall, says she supports a name change, noting that the campaign started with students and that the issue has encouraged students to participate in civic engagement. If the name is changed, her personal choice for an alternative is “Peace Valley High School” in recognition of the school’s location on Peace Valley Lane.

Kiran Zaidi, a senior who serves as SGA treasurer, said the name should be changed because the school was named for Stuart “to make blacks feel intimidated to come to school. Our school is diverse; the name should represent us.”

“Every other school named for a significant person has a bio about that person on the school’s website. Stuart’s website doesn’t say anything about Stuart,” Zaidi notes. That indicates “we’re kind of ashamed of what he stood for.”

Campbell Palmer, president of the Stuart Boosters Club, says he’s not opposed to a name change, as long as the costs would be covered by FCPS and not the community, but he also says the focus should be shifted to addressing the school’s academic needs.

The cost is a big issue for Booster Club member and parent David Harrell, who opposes a name change. Changing the name “would do nothing to raise test scores,” he says. 

According to Harrell, the Booster Club already has to raise $30,000 to $35,000 a year for things like sports equipment and uniforms and now the club has to reimburse FCPS $15,000 a year for the school’s share of the cost of the new turf field.

Also, he says, “it’s unfair to single out JEB Stuart High School when we have Robert E. Lee High School and Thomas Jefferson High School. Why stop here? Lord Fairfax owned thousands of slaves.”

Meeting attendees write down their thoughts on a name change.
Several members of the Stuart Class of 1966 were at the meeting, after having celebrated their 50th reunion last weekend. The reunion events included a workshop on the name change issue featuring a lengthy historical report prepared by alum Randy Norton covering Gen. Stuart, the Civil War, the civil rights movement, massive resistance against integration, and the school board’s decision to name the school for Stuart after a preliminary decision to call it Munson Hill High School.

According to Norton, the Class of 1966 appeared to be “strongly divided” on a name change, although a formal vote was not taken.

About 75 members of the class took a tour of Stuart on May 21. The diversity of the school now is in stark contrast to what it was in 1966, says alum Nancy Mills. In her day, Stuart was “overwhelming white,” with about three African-Americans among the school’s 400 students.

Mills had been active in the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s and says some of her classmates were uncomfortable with the school’s name, but “it was not something anyone put energy into.”

Those at the reunion who opposed the name change had two main reasons, she says: “You can’t erase history” and changing the name “would reflect badly on them.” Some of her former classmates felt that people nowadays would perceive former students as racist.

Mills, however, believes the name should be changed, because “it causes pain and discomfort for students and does nothing to inspire them.” 


  1. Mr. Harrell seems to be missing a point or is intentionally deflecting with a red herring/strawman argument in his quote above.

    The rationale for changing the name NEVER had anything to do with "improving test scores". Clearly, he doesn't want to address the actual reason for the campaign. It is a lingering stain and scar of the last defiant gasp of a segregationist school board that was part of Virginia's Massive Resistance to integration, and it's well past time to change the name, regardless of cost.

    It's also disingenuous for opponents to throw in costs for replacement of uniforms that are regularly replaced and covered by booster organizations, not taxpayers.

    Even if the total were the ridiculous amount of $1 million being quoted in some parent groups, 500,000 tax-paying residents of Fairfax County would have a one-time cost of $2.

    Saying "it costs money" is a never-ending argument and an excuse to never do anything to right the injustice done in the late 1950s.

    Change the name!

    1. We have students that can not speak English, money issues in the County but funds should not be an issue? If the cost is not an issue then you yourself should pay and not ask the taxpayers to pay for a name change. By the way, Boosters work hard on the back of volunteers to raise money from the community to pay for uniforms why should they have to pay for earlier then planned?

  2. Is that THE Kofi Annan quoted?

  3. I'm not sure how long "Oscar winner Julianne Moore" attended JEB Stuart HS, but from what I've read, she never stayed long at ANY of her schools. I don't believe I would let her opinion sway any decision, even if she is high profile. I spent all 4 years of high school there in the 1960s, and I am opposed to a name change.

  4. I generally do not support name changes due to politically correct revisionist history, in this case just because we view JEB Stuart as an evil guy.
    However, the rationale for naming the school for JEB Stuart does provide a valid reason for renaming. The then-segregationist school board's "poke in the eye" to SCOTUS' ruling on Brown v. Board of Education is really the "evil guy" here.
    The irony is that the strategy ultimately failed...Stuart High School is currently one of the most diverse in the county; I doubt that anyone feels intimidated any more, simply ashamed about the inability to post its history on the web page. Diversity has already won so there doesn't seem to be a reason to change; changing the name shrouds the victory. However, history is always written by the victors....

    1. Well, the South lost the Civil War, and yet set about to heroicize those who violated their oaths and committed treason. Naming the school after Stuart was part of that revisionism of the "Lost Cause". Combined with Massive Resistance, it synergized into a toxic stew of lingering hatred and supremacy that persists as long as that name is on the school.

    2. Until the name change was brought up no one gave JEB Stuart's name a second thought. No one is running around laughing look at what the South did "In Your Face North". It is not toxic stew of lingering hatred.

  5. How does a name cause pain and discomfort? Really people this is just ridiculous! I guess we better stop teaching history. It causes too much pain and discomfort or better yet why don't we change history? Oh, right you can't change history!

    1. Sounds like someone has spent most of their life in the majority... You can't change history, but you don't have to glorify the negative parts.

  6. “If you look at social justice issues, 35 percent is more than enough to initiate change,”

    Since when is a democratic threshold 35%. Maybe Mr. Cohen needs to go back to school and take a civics lesson...

    1. That's the same mentality that oppressed the minority in the 1950s.

    2. Are you saying 7:02 that those who are against the name change are trying to oppress the minority?

    3. This process is going to a vote and last I heard 50% is the gold standard passing. If the name JEB Stuart violates anyone's civil rights that matter should head to the judiciary.

  7. An overlooked aspect of this controversy is that the name attached to this high school has become generic over the years. Although JEB Stuart's image may initially have been appropriated by some locals as a gesture of defiance to desegregation, that mentality has largely disappeared over the years. What's left is a name that's been "sanitized" by years of "lost cause" propaganda. In short, these days JEB Stuart is just a name on a building that most seemingly don't associate with much of anything. In my mind, that lack of meaningful relevance is the best reason this high school should be renamed. Compared to Thurgood Marshall, JEB Stuart accomplished very little of substance. He may have been a dashing "cavalier", but his legacy died with him. In fact, his reputation was already in decline when he fell. So, regardless of the cost, the citizens of Fairfax deserve better than to continue memorializing someone who was never of more than fleeting significance, especially in this corner of the Commonwealth.

    1. Isn't "dashing cavalier" a bit of myth-making? A "raider" is a terrorist, a thief, a saboteur.

    2. ^^ and in this case, a traitor who lost the war.

      I'm a Stuart alum who was not offered an opportunity to take the survey. Evans will be hearing from me soon.

  8. Just call it FCPHS05, Fairfax County Public High School #05. Rename all the county schools and be done with it.

  9. How is the survey "flawed" I'm a grad and I took it as many others were .I understand the issue and why ,but... it would take literally thousands upon thousands of taxpayer money to change the name. They should just slowly change it to just Stuart without the JEB as years go by and new things are added I am a grad of Stuart I took the survey and said I did not want the change as many others did not as well.How is that flawed? Many people obviously felt the same way it will take too much of the taxpayer money to do a total name change.

  10. I think the name should be changed to "Penny Gross High School" and a statue of Mason's matriarch should be installed in the entry lobby.

  11. My, my, my. How twisted history can become. There is no evidence that Massive Resistance was the reason for naming our high school JEB Stuart. There is evidence to suggest that the name was part of the national centennial celebration of the Civil War, also known as the War between the States. States...a key word in this discussion.

    Judging people by today's standards is a dangerous exercise as many have already warned. We must learn from history and, to that end, it is important to remember that slavery was not a top tier cause of the Civil War. Succession was based on economics and STATES rights.

    The South has a strong heritage of defending states rights and that battle is in play even today.

    To assume that JEB Stuart was a Confederate in order to keep slavery intact is a mistaken conclusion. He was a Confederate because Virginia seceded. He was loyal to his homeland; his STATE.

    The Civil War tore families, neighbors and communities apart; whites and blacks equally.

    President Lincoln and General Grant showed great respect and compassion for the defeated Confederates and even sent the soldiers home with their guns. (NOTE: There were slaves who fought for the south who returned to the plantations to face their new reality alongside their former owners.)

    How very sad that Lincoln's and Grant's noble and forgiving lesson is sullied by today's revisionism.

    JEB gave his life to his homeland Virginia. And, so it follows that a Virginia school is named after a loyal son.

    1. Well said. Apparently, since no one actually comes from Virginia anymore, they don't understand what it meant to be a Virginian. Stuart and Lee were both loyal to their homes (Virginia). Why is there no equal push to change the name of R.E. Lee HS? Perhaps, their history teachers are better?

    2. Unlike Stuart, Lee survived the Great Rebellion and that provided Southern revisionists with the opportunity to cast him as the great hero of the Lost Cause. As a result of their spin, he's now omnipresent. There are so many places around here named after him that changing the name of Lee High School would be pointless.

    3. Lincoln and Grant's 'noble and forgiving lesson' was Reconstruction. It was the incredibly difficult task of putting the country back together after a bloody and violent fracture.

      Reconstruction forgave acts of treason and allowed civil war veterans to be buried in federal cemeteries, if I'm not mistaken. Everyone wanted to put the past in the past and unify the country again.

      Some say that the south fought for states’ rights and were ‘noble gentlemen.’ Some disagree.

      It is a complex history. The Slaughter House Cases (1872), Plessy v Ferguson (1896), as well as Jim Crow laws (1890-1965) document how we, as a country, struggled with a new social and economic order after the Civil War and resisted equal citizenship for all citizens. The civil rights era after WWII saw more struggles, including Brown V Board of Education (1954), massive resistance (1954-64) that included legislated segregation of schools throughout the US as well as the actions of then governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., to close public schools throughout the state when they tried to integrate until he was forced to stop in 1959. Virginia’s Prince Edward County Schools closed down completely from 1959 to 1964, denying all nonwhite children a public education while providing a private education to white children.

      They were clinging to the past and fighting to preserve a way of life they felt was right and good.

      I think we should stop living in the past and NOT honor a figure that honors a mindset that promotes and legislates treating people differently based on the color of their skin. To call JEB Stuart and other confederates loyal sons of Virginia is poetic and lovely but ignores the truth. Stuart was a product of his time, as was slavery, a fundamental tenet of the Confederacy, and an embarrassment to all of us.

      This discussion is teaching everyone to think about what we stand for and what we choose to honor. Whether you knew who he was a month or a year ago, you certainly know who JEB Stuart is now. Would you choose to honor him and his fight for Virginia's economic independence and continued dependence on slave labor, if given the choice today? Would you choose to support massive resistance if given the choice today?

      A more immediate question might be, do members of our community feel discriminated against today, based on the color of their skin? Probably some do. Will changing the name of this school change that? Probably not immediately, but, over time, it just might -- this discussion is a lesson for our school community that we honor equal rights, an inspiring and uplifting message that can carry over outside of the classroom.

      Yes, changing the name will cost money. It will also send a message about our beliefs and our values. Just as JEB Stuart inspired belief in the Confederacy and Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. inspired Massive Resistance to Brown V. Board, we have the opportunity to inspire our community to recognize the importance of civil rights and equal rights in today's world, on a national and international level.

      This has incredible value.

    4. Excellent comment. It does not make sense to name a school for a non-political soldier if you want to make a political statement about segregation. Only people with interest in the Civil War would know about Stuart.

    5. 3:27, thank you. Very well put.

      I actually was born in Virginia--Alexandria, to be exact--and did attend Stuart HS a few decades ago. Even then, it seemed strange and inappropriate to us that our school should honor someone who would have despised the wonderful diversity of our student body.

      The term "political correctness" didn't exist back then, so people shouldn't try to paint it as such today. The issue was simply a question about how much sense it made to supposedly honor someone who wouldn't have ever honored us--and I'm including myself because I was a white girl hanging with people of other skin tones. (The shame! The horror! Scandalous!)

      Those who complain about "revising history" don't seem aware of the fact that history is re-written all the time, and that changing the name of the school wouldn't change what happened. It would merely reflect the changes that ARE happening now--and have been since the middle of the last century.

  12. No one is trying to erase history. The Confederacy will always be part of America's past. The question is about what we as a community choose to honor by the naming of our civic buildings.

    I find it bizarre that anyone would choose to honor a CSA general at all but particularly JEB Stuart. He had no ties to this area other than his service in the CSA. He was a commissioned officer in the US Army who swore an oath to protect the Constitution yet broke that oath and fought against it. This is not a man worthy of honor.

    Change the name.

    1. JEB Stuart didn't violate his oath of service. That's because he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army before joining the Confederacy.

  13. To: None Listed5/25/16, 5:39 AM et al

    You are definitely trying to erase history; no doubt about it.

    The Civil War, also known as the War between the States or the War of Northern Agression, was a fight for independence by the South.

    The South lost, but kindness, goodness and compassion reigned over spite and punishment and Southerners were allowed to return to their homes in dignity in their defeat.

    Why are you and others trying to erase that magnificent lesson after all these years?

    Today you are fomenting hostility and judging others outside the context of their times. You are attacking your neighbors' descendents. There are plenty of true Virginians with a long Virginian lineage living in Northern Virginia. Don't be so smug.

    Should your neighbors with a Virginian lineage be ashamed of their family histories? I don't think so.

    Yes, you are erasing history. You are fomenting hostility and divisiveness and erasing Lincoln's outstanding example of compassion that helped heal the wounds of war and bring us back together as a strong country.

    Oh, and I am a midwesterner. I do not believe in revising history. I simply do not believe in judging the past in the context of today's standards.

  14. Wow. Lot's of people seem to have been tuned out in their history classes.

  15. To Concerned, well said.

    I am also amused that the 2 Hollywood figures no longer live in Virginia, nor do they appear engaged in any significant social issues in their new home state. Perhaps, I am mistaken Also,from their apparent success, neither was traumatized by attending a high school named after a Confederate general. Maybe, they can fund a portion of the renaming.

    As mentioned by Concerned, we should be learning from history not
    erasing the parts we don't like.
    Our great country has a checkered past: suppression of Native Americans, slavery, Manifest Destiny, the Know Nothing Party, etc. Should we attempt to erase the names of all Americans, regardless of their accomplishments ( e.g.Washington) because they weren't perfect in our 21st Century eyes?

    It would be a long list.

  16. Rename the school MS-13.

  17. This discussion is teaching everyone to think about what we stand for and what we choose to honor. Whether you knew who he was a month or a year ago, you certainly know who JEB Stuart is now. Would you choose to honor him and his fight for Virginia's economic independence and continued dependence on slave labor, if given the choice today? Would you choose to support massive resistance if given the choice today?

    A more immediate question might be, do members of our community feel discriminated against today, based on the color of their skin? Probably some do. Will changing the name of this school change that? Probably not immediately, but, over time, it just might -- this discussion is a lesson for our school community that we honor equal rights, an inspiring and uplifting message that can carry over outside of the classroom.

    Yes, changing the name will cost money. It will also send a message about our beliefs and our values. Just as JEB Stuart inspired belief in the Confederacy and Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. inspired Massive Resistance to Brown V. Board, we have the opportunity to inspire our community to recognize the importance of civil rights and equal rights in today's world, on a national and international level.

    This has incredible value.

    1. Spoken like a true 21st century revisionist.

  18. Let's see...there is not enough classroom for the students to learn in due to overcrowding. The teachers have to buy their own supplies and have not had a decent raise. The school almost missed the pass benchmark by 1/2 a point and people are worried about spending almost a mil to change the school name?! Get real people. Spend money where the real issue is. The classroom. All this political correct crap sway from the most important issue. Education. If Cohen or Moore wants to donate the mil for the costs, no problem! Thanks and a nice tax write off for them. Spin that marketing and use social media to solicit donors kids.

    1. TO: Anonymous5/25/16, 3:27 PM

      What don't you get about States Rights? The Civil War wasn't all about slavery.
      2. States versus federal rights.

      Since the time of the Revolution, two camps emerged: those arguing for greater states rights and those arguing that the federal government needed to have more control. The first organized government in the US after the American Revolution was under the Articles of Confederation. The thirteen states formed a loose confederation with a very weak federal government. However, when problems arose, the weaknesses of the Articles caused the leaders of the time to come together at the Constitutional Convention and create, in secret, the US Constitution. Strong proponents of states rights like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry were not present at this meeting. Many felt that the new constitution ignored the rights of states to continue to act independently. They felt that the states should still have the right to decide if they were willing to accept certain federal acts. This resulted in the idea of nullification, whereby the states would have the right to rule federal acts unconstitutional. The federal government denied states this right. However, proponents such as John C. Calhoun fought vehemently for nullification. When nullification would not work and states felt that they were no longer respected, they moved towards secession.

  19. Maybe we should shut down all the national civil war battlefields and monuments and just pretend nothing happened. Would that satisfy revisionists?

  20. JEB Stuart High School is a learning institution. If $778,000 can be raised, spend it on improving education in the school. Don't change the name, use it, and embrace it, as a teaching lesson. Look at how much we have learned as a result of this discussion. Teach about the history of the school, the name, the person, and the area. Many skirmishes were fought over Munson Hill. The history of Bailey's Crossroads is documented in "Elephants and Quaker Guns". Don't change it, embrace it, teach what we have learned from it. This is a great opportunity, which will be gone if the name is changed. Create a day on the school calendar, to teach the history of the school and the name. If we don't learn from history, we are bound to repeat it.

    1. Teaching it is very different from celebrating it--as naming something after a person is meant to do.

      Change the name (phase out the old uniforms and products at a natural pace, because none of the things owned by teenagers lasts forever and will need to be replaced eventually), put a freakin' plaque on the wall near the school's entrance, and be done with it. "Embracing" Stuart is not vital to learning a single thing.

    2. You miss the point, the relevance of a name is what you do with it, keeping the name satisfies those that don't want to change it, but more importantly, using it to teach about all aspects, including the controversy keeps the importance alive forever.

      Putting a plaque up won't mean anything. Phasing out the old uniforms won't work, it would be like having two names for a quite a number of years (I imagine the uniforms last at least 4 - 5 years, and you are still spending a lot of money that could be used for education.

  21. JEB Stuart was a famous military tactician. He devised an ingenious military deception at the battle of Munson Hill that is case study even today.

    The U.S. military studied Stuart-style deception practices to reduce casualties and defeat our enemies (WWII Operation Overlord is a famous example).

    Munson Hill is around the corner from the high school. Stuart's military genius legacy has played out beyond the Civil War as important strategy in protecting Americans and their Allies. Perhaps this alone is worth recognizing.

    Massive resistance doesn't seem to have been a factor in Northern Virginia's attempt to name new schools. At least no documentation seems to exist to prove that and even authors on the topic seem to be conjecturing in accusing participation in Massive Resistance. In fact, FFX schools were somewhat simultaneously named for anti-slavery proponents: Whittier, Thoreau. More to the point, FFX chose a loyal and brilliant Virginian whose long standing contributions may have been a deciding factor. Also, most names of prominent Virginians were probably already in play so the selection of names was narrowed.

    All this seems to suggest a form of neutrality in FFX when the Commonwealth itself was in fact resisting segregation. The Civil War Centennial Celebration may have been a factor, and I don't doubt that as well.

    Stuart was a genius military strategist and a Virginian. Because he was on the "wrong side" we should not underestimate his contribution to the success of our military efforts today.

    How will people 150 years from now judge us? Would they find the names we chose offensive? Will they villify Truman for Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Will the Enola Gay be removed from the Smithsonian?

  22. Excellent points! Facts rather than conjecture and vilification.

    Wonder how much money and time has already been spent by FCPS on this subject?

    Unfortunately, fiscal restraint, common sense and a reading and appreciation of history, warts and all, is sadly lacking in this case.