Some ugly realities have surfaced right here in Northern Virginia in the context of the new national momentum to cleanse public spaces of glorified remnants of the pro-slavery Confederate insurgency that sought to secede from the United States, triggering the Civil War 150 years ago.
The ugly realities are from a much more recent past, as it turns out. They go to just 60 years ago, when a push was on in this area to retaliate against the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court “Brown Vs. Board of Education” decision mandating the racial integration of public schools. Virginia was in the forefront of once-Confederate southern states to resist this development, with school boards slow to implement the mandate, with one college shutting down rather than integrate, and with a continued ban on interracial marriage that led to an arrest as recently as 1968 (and a lawsuit that eventually led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn that ban).
It is shocking, frankly, to learn that Fairfax County schools that were built in the late 1950s were named for Confederate military figures and with “Rebel” nicknames specifically in reaction against the integration mandate, to make it as intimidating and uncomfortable as possible for African-American students to attend classes then.
Clearly, it had nothing to do with the “heritage” of the Old South, but with ugly racism, plain and simple. Therefore, we applaud the current efforts to change these names, including of our very nearby J.E.B. Stuart High School.
It used to be the case in the City of Falls Church that any time a new development was completed that the developers would seek a recommendation for a name from the City’s Historical Commission. Well, the Historical Commission was in the habit of proposing names of families that received land grants from the era when the British ran the affairs here. What they overlooked in doing that was that these families were slave owners. The slave owners were families with names like Trammel, Crossman and Pearson.
When a recent case of this was in the pipeline, this newspaper commented that it was not appropriate to continue to do this. The developer responded and went about exploring an alternative name. He came up with the name of John Read, a Union soldier who was operating around the historic Falls Church Episcopal teaching reading to African-American children. For this reason he was singled out by Confederate forces and killed. He is buried in the graveyard at the Falls Church Episcopal.
So, there is a “Read Building” in Falls Church, instead of another one named for a slave owner.
This is precisely the spirit that now needs to be extended to Fairfax County high schools and other regional landmarks, such as Jefferson Davis Highway.
So also for our region’s professional sports teams. We applaud the leadership role played by the progressive United Church of Christ spearheading a name change for the area’s pro football franchise.