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Petition: Remove Confederate Names from Fairfax Schools

FALLS CHURCH’s J.E.B. STUART High School is one of the Fairfax County Schools, along with Robert E. Lee and W.T. Woodson, a new petition is calling on to change its name. (Photo: Drew Costley)
FALLS CHURCH’s J.E.B. STUART High School is one of the Fairfax County Schools, along with Robert E. Lee and W.T. Woodson, a new petition is calling on to change its name. (Photo: Drew Costley)

In step with a growing national movement to remove symbols of the country’s pro-slavery Confederacy, a movement has begun in Fairfax County to rename three of the county’s schools – two named after leaders of the Confederacy and another named for a Fairfax superintendent who was opposed to the immediate integration of public schools.

But there are currently two opposing petitions circulating through the online Change.org, one calling for Fairfax County School Board member Sandy Evans to spearhead the renaming of Robert E. Lee High School, W.T. Woodson High School and Falls Church’s J.E.B. Stuart High School, and another opposing the renaming of the schools.

Both petitions were started by alumni of the Fairfax school system. Lisa McQuail and Jeff Parker, two Stuart graduates, are heading up the group petitioning for the names to be changed while David Chagnon, a Lee alumnus, started the petition opposing the renaming of the schools. Another group, made up of current Stuart students, began organizing to get their school’s name changed in late May.

The students – Anna Rowan, Lidia Amanuel, Cassie Marcotty, Abby Conde and Marley Finley – are rising seniors at Stuart and over the past year all began questioning the name of the school named after a Confederate general. Rowan, Amanuel and Conde produced a video soliciting the opinions of Stuart students and faculty on the school’s name and posted it to YouTube in early June.

“We’re such a diverse school that we shouldn’t be honoring the Confederacy,” Marcotty said. “For a man who [supported] slavery, it doesn’t make sense for him to represent such a diverse and cultural school. So we decided to take a stand against it.” The ethnic breakdown of the school for the 2013-2014 school year was 15.91 percent Asian, 11.39 percent Black, 46.45 percent Hispanic, 24.16 percent White and 2.09 percent other.

Conde said that the school’s name has been a common thread throughout her and her classmate’s three years at Stuart located in the Lake Barcroft area of greater Falls Church.

“I remember my freshman year at Stuart our gym teacher asked us, ‘What do you feel about the school name and how it represents you guys,’ and, as freshmen, were like ‘Eh,’” she said, while shrugging her shoulders. “But then you learn to understand what Stuart represents, which is how we’ve come to what we’re doing now.”

The students said that they’ve learned about Stuart’s history and have done their own research into the school’s name. Amanuel said that she didn’t even know who Stuart was until she learned about him in her history class this past school year. “We went into what he did in the Civil War and why our school was named what it was during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s,” she said.

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AN EXHIBIT outside of the J.EB. Start High School library displays memorabilia of the Confederate general. (Photo: Drew Costley)
AN EXHIBIT outside of the J.E.B. Stuart High School library displays memorabilia of the Confederate general. (Photo: Drew Costley)

This history was more recent and immediate for McQuail and Parker. They claim in their petition that the Fairfax County School Board intentionally named Stuart and Lee in 1959 as part of a massive Southern resistance to the pro-integration 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown Vs. Board of Education.

“The apparent intent was to make black families and their children feel as uncomfortable as possible attending desegregated schools in Fairfax County,” the petition says.

“The naming of J.E.B. Stuart in 1958-59 was the last gasp of the neo-Confederates who were trying desperately to stake out brand new schools in white neighborhoods and literally raise the Confederate flag over these schools by naming them J.E.B. Stuart and having the Raiders or Robert E. Lee and have some charging horse as the mascot with the underlying implication we should revere these men, who took up arms against their own government,” Parker said.

A 2002 article Kathleen Riley wrote in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, titled “The Long Shadow of the Confederacy in America’s Schools: State-Sponsored Use of Confederate Symbols in the Wake of Brown Vs. Board,” was linked to in the Stuart alumni petition. It documented the “last gasp” Parker spoke about to the News-Press.

“In the midst of school desegregation under Brown, many school districts faced the chore of consolidating separate schools for whites and African Americans into single integrated schools,” Riley wrote. “State and local governments displayed their hostility toward desegregation, with schools changing their school names to honor Confederate war heroes, or making the school mascot a Confederate soldier.”

McQuail and Parker both said they remembered a palpable racial tension at the school when they were there in the 1970s

“Looking back to my freshmen year there,” said McQuail, who graduated in 1978. “The racial tension was so high and there was so much that the school board and the school system, the whole community, could have done…not only to lessen the racial tension, but actually make it a really great learning experience for everyone there.”

Instead, McQuail and Parker said, members of the school community held on to symbols of the Confederacy and Civil War, like the Confederate flags, Civil War cannons flying the flag or school mascots dressed in Confederate regalia taking victory laps around the school’s track during football games.

“These are images that young black kids who were supposed to integrated into the school saw,” McQuail said. Parker, who graduated in 1975 and now lives in San Francisco, said that while the Black students he went to school with were polite he thought they held resentments because they felt unwelcome at the school. He said he could feel the anxiety of the black students.

“I thought that they felt that there was literally a Confederate flag flying over our school and it was there to make them feel unwelcome and less than us in some small way,” he said. “And to me it attempted to pin a badge of inferiority on every black student attending that school.”

The William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal article spoke about symbols of the Confederacy as badges of slavery or inferiority, saying the following: “When an African American athlete is forced to don a uniform emblazoned with a Confederate flag and the school’s nickname of the ‘Rebels,’ that student is literally wearing a badge of slavery. That student is wearing something that represents the Southern ideals of the Civil War, ideals that inarguably include a defense of slavery. A student who wears such a uniform is being told by school officials and his fellow students that the enslavement of his ancestors was proper and that such enslavement might suit him as well.”

Phil Thaxton, a black man and captain of Stuart’s football team in the late 1980s, said that his history classes at the school covered the Civil War, but did not delve into the history of J.E.B. Stuart and why the school was named after him. He said that he did not experience the racial tension that McQuail and Parker described experiencing in the 1970s, perhaps because he attended the school during a period of “white flight.”

“Stuart was a predominately white school when I arrived there in the fall of ‘84 and at the same time…we had a lot of refugees coming in from Asia, Africa, there were civil wars all over the place,” Thaxton said. “Well a lot of the White kids that I went to Glasgow Elementary School with, by the time I got to, let’s say, tenth grade, those kids were going to Bishop Ireton, O’Connell, some had transferred to Annandale…they went to schools that you would say are predominately White, because they saw a demographic change happening at Stuart.”

Thaxton, who wrote about his experiences at Stuart in 2010 memoir J.E.B. Stuart’s Raiders: Memoirs of a Black Captain (1987-1989), said he only learned about the significance of his school’s name during a similar push to rename Fairfax schools and mascots that happened briefly in the mid-1980s.

“I [went] to a school that is named after a white, racist guy,” Thaxton said. “This is what we represent, we go out there and play football and basketball, and represent this Confederate general, who fought for the right to enslave black folks.”

J.E.B. Stuart High School students (l to r) Cassie Marcotty, Abby Conde, Anna Rowan and Lidia Amanuel meet with Jim Kilbourne, president of the Lake Barcroft Association, at George Mason Regional Library in Annandale on Tuesday night about the effort to rename the school. (Photo: Drew Costley)
J.E.B. Stuart High School students (l to r) Cassie Marcotty, Abby Conde, Anna Rowan and Lidia Amanuel meet with Jim Kilbourne, president of the Lake Barcroft Association, at George Mason Regional Library in Annandale on Tuesday night about the effort to rename the school. (Photo: Drew Costley)

Despite all this, Thaxton, who lives Woodbridge now, had mixed feelings when asked about renaming the school. While he is for the renaming of the school, he admitted to having some sentimentality for the name of the school he went to.

He still owns his letterman jacket, which dons a Confederate flag, and other memorabilia from his days at the school. The Confederate flag has since been removed from the Raiders’ athletic gear and replaced with a solid blue flag.

“God, man, Stuart’s been around since, what, ‘59, right? God.” he said as he sighed, considering his answer.

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“I don’t have a problem with the name change because I know the school is far for that now but I understand from reading in the papers that J.E.B. Stuart is known for being a racially-diverse, multicultural school….The school is so far away from General James Ewell Brown Stuart. I don’t have a problem with it in that sense. But then again, as an alumnus, gosh, I guess I would feel kind of funny, because then I wouldn’t have a school anymore.”

That’s part of what those opposing the effort to rid schools of links to the Confederacy and segregationists are arguing. Many of the comments on the Change.org started by Chagnon, now a Vienna resident, express nostalgia for the school’s the commenters went to and a desire to keep the school’s the way they remember them. Others said that changing the names of the schools and mascots, or other public facilities such as roads, would be erasing or revising history.

Marcotty said that she understands that some of the alumni opposed to renaming these schools are sentimental about their memories of grade school, but disagreed with the notion that changing the school names and mascots would change or revise history.

“I think we want to make sure that this isn’t about changing history, it’s about having a name that represents our school well,” she said. “We’re not trying to change anything, it already happened. J.E.B. Stuart may have been a great man, but he’s not someone who would support how diverse our school is today.”

Conde added that the school’s name needs to change to future generations of students. The five students have met with Evans, the Stuart alumni supportive of the name change efforts, and other community leaders, in order to find out the process for renaming the school.

Evans, the Fairfax County School Board’s vice president who represents Mason district, where Stuart’s located, wouldn’t take a stance on either side of the issue and said that there would have to be “substantial community engagement” going forward to gauge how the public feels about renaming the school.

First the school board would have to vote to remove Stuart’s name from the school and then have a separate vote to rename the school. Both processes would include opportunities for members of the community to have input on the issue.

“The larger Stuart community should have a conversation about this,” Evans said. “There certainly are different views on this. I’ve heard from various members of the community, some of them are supportive of a name change, some of them not, some with very strong feelings. I know this has been a topic of conversation with the alumni association.

“So I think this is something, as I suggested to the students, that should be brought to the community via a variety of ways, the PTSA, civic associations, the alumni association and I’m happy to facilitate a conversation on this.”

Comments

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37 Comments

  1. David v.R. Bowles

    I support these name changes.

  2. Ridiculous. Let’s not throw our history and heritage out the window. I am certainly not a Confederate supporter….but at the same time I don’t think we need to erase history and heritage…..and you need to look at Jeb Stuart’s entire life, his commitment to his state, etc. Okay, want to change this name…what’s next? Why not consider a name change for the Thomas Jefferson Magnate High School. It is long before the Civil War and Confederacy….but he was an active slave owner and strong supporter of our state. Why not tackle Robert E. Lee High School first? I think our students, school administrators, teachers, and parents have much bigger challenges and things to focus on that this. Instead what is being done is an overreaction to what one awful person did in South Carolina in committing a horrific crime….get off this and back to more important matters.

    • Lidia Amanuel

      We can’t tackle Lee HS, because it isn’t our school to change. We started this before the SC MASSACRE so, it wouldn’t be a consequent reaction of any kind to that crime. But while you have brought it up, that event showed just how far the results of suppressing these issues can go. This is apart of starting a series of long over due conversations so we can LEARN from history instead of “ERASING history and heritage”. Also, I don’t think this quite fits under the category of throwing history and heritage out of the window. We are not demanding a change in curriculum or burning books about the confederacy, but simply ceasing to honor JEB Stuart as has been done for almost 60 years. Most importantly, it is not about what kind of person he is, but why and when our school was named after him. Maybe you should do a little research on that.

      • I have done enough research to know this is an over-reach and that there are many other things for folks to focus on instead of delving into changing names of schools, highways, etc.

        • Lidia Amanuel

          Who said anything about highways…that seems like an over reach on your behalf.
          What alternative do you suggest to combat this issue if you think our efforts of renaming the school are being misplaced?

          • Try doing nothing….focus on other important school matters.

          • And that is the problem…I’m sorry that you don’t agree with what we are doing. We want to be people of action not just words and support this movement so that future generations won’t have to deal with as much ignorance as the past ones have had to. We are trying to be productive members of our society and doing nothing doesn’t cut it. Thank you for your input though.

          • Lidia,
            Right on. Tom, what these students are doing is engaging in the most important of “school issues”—being actively engaged in the community, connecting national and local histories, and doing the kind of critical analysis schools aspire to teach!

            -KC (class of ’99)

          • Kids are kowtowing the line of the disgruntled minority all because of their hurt feelings. It’s that white guilt that they and you shouldn’t have.

            This knee-jerk reaction is nothing but nonsense.

          • You need to wipe your tears and your big ass and accept the fact that throwing these little tantrums won’t erase history or heritage. Back off before you get hurt.

          • Hmm I only see one person throwing a tantrum here and it is certainly not Lidia.

          • Do not threaten these children “Jay” or whoever you are. Shame on you! FYI: Threatening people on Social Media is a Federal offense

          • It’s not a threat, slow one. If you try to force people to do something they don’t want to do, they have the right to defend themselves. These aren’t children, either, you fat windbag. Your avatar is a disgrace. Way to confuse and pervert children, promoting that Unconstitutional and immoral decision. Deprogram yourself.

          • Do not feed the troll. He’s just sad he’s missing out on the action today in Columbia, SC and his confederate hanky to cry on is in the wash, poor fellow.

          • Labeling someone a troll for being honest automatically makes you the troll by default. Think before you type.

            And I’m not part of the KKK. Nor does the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and Jeb Stuart represent them. Pull your uneducated head out of your big, wide ass.

          • Jay, what I like about you is your consistency in your insults. My head and big fat uneducated ass salute you!

    • Jenna Katz

      What heritage does a school name impart? I’m sorry but renaming the school isn’t destroying any history or heritage. What it does is impart the sense that a school is or isn’t a welcoming environment. It’s not like students are required to write essays on their schools name sake and therefore study him in school. Jeb Stuart’s own obscurity is not based on whether a school is named after him or not, but the fact he was on a losing side of a war. We have moved on and realize that the confederates were wrong to hold fast to slavery and that abolishing slavery has made us a better country. Having a school named after someone who fought for that idea tells students that the school is pro-slavery and discrimination regardless of his other contributions.

      • Slavery didn’t end in the North until after the war in 1865. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Grant owned slaved and didn’t have them freed until after the war.

        Think of the ramifications what you just said. It would have to further mean that Confederate soldiers, the vast majority of whom didn’t own, couldn’t own (didn’t own the acreage to make use of slaves, didn’t have the cash to buy the slaves) and didn’t want to own (so they claimed) slaves, were willing to die and be permanently injured in large numbers, suffer poor clothing and food supplies during/between battles; just so some rich dude (plantation owner) could continue to keep his 30, 40, 50 etc Negroes and harvest cash crops in order to live a lifestyle far beyond what said rich dude needed to be comfortable. And on top of all that give exemptions to military service (at least front line service) to said rich dude. There’s just no way that dying/suffering for rich dudes (and exempting rich dude from the dying/suffering) was the motivation of Confederate soldiers.

        Didn’t hear one iota about that. Inconvenient Fact. Wouldn’t be easy to make the South out to be all evil slavers by mentioning all that. People should get their history from original sources, and I mean ALL!!! original sources. Not this cherry-picked, lies-by-omission propaganda spewed out by the academic institutions (of America), reinforced by news media and entertainment media. For example, the New England states agitated for secession from the Union almost immediately after the passing of the Constitution (that created the Union). Some of them even gave aid and comfort to the British during the War of 1812; an outrageous act of undeniable treason. Go read U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section III about what constitutes treason. After about 1840 the New Englanders had to silence that secession crap because they realized the South had most of the coal deposits and New England and the U.S. north of the Mason/Dixon line wouldn’t have much of an industrial economy without serious supplies of the premier energy source of the 19th century (Coal). Especially if the South left the Union. New Englanders would look like the hypocrites they were if they claimed the South could not do (secede) what New Englanders had been claiming for themselves all along, wouldn’t they? Didn’t hear one iota about that.

        Inconvenient Fact. Wouldn’t be easy to make the North out to be so noble mentioning all that. Didn’t hear one iota about how NOT one slave ship was built by a Southerner, owned by a Southerner, insured by a Southerner, captained by a Southerner or manned by few, if any, Southerners. All northerners. The North wrapped itself in Christianity/Bible in their opposition to slavery yet all along they financially benefited from it. At the beginning of the Union in 1789 the North wanted to continue importing Africans for slaves into North America and the South wanted it stopped from the beginning. It’s in the Minutes of the Constitutional Convention for all to read. They compromised and it continued until 1808. Inconvenient Facts. Wouldn’t be easy to make the North out to be so noble mentioning all that. Yeah, well …. hypocrites (of the North) removeth the tree branch from thine eyes before ye complaineth of the sliver in eyes of others (the South).

        Didn’t hear how there were approximately 250,000 slave owners in the Confederate army, yet 350,000 in the Union army (border states). That about 4% or so of the white population (north and south) owned slaves, yet something close to 30% of free blacks owned other blacks as slaves. Or that black African princes sold their own race out by helping European slavers capture blacks from other tribes. Didn’t hear one iota about all that. Inconvenient Facts. Wouldn’t be easy to make the South out to be all evil slavers by mentioning all that. Didn’t hear one iota about how the people who grew up with, lived amongst, Lincoln before he entered state and national politics couldn’t recognize the Lincoln that eulogized in 1865. Or that those who eulogized Lincoln after the war had utterly vilified and character assassinated Lincoln during much of the war and before it. Sounds like someone was doing some historical revisionism, Huh? Inconvenient Facts. Wouldn’t be easy to make the North out to be so noble mentioning all that.

        The North wanted to be the dominant economic power in the Union and needed federal control of economic activity, specifically the coal supplies, to do it. That further means they needed to keep the South (who had most of the coal deposits, that were known to exist at that time) in the Union to do this to the South. The North needed to keep the South in the Union and they also needed the national gov’t to be politically dominant over the states in order for the North to be economically dominant. That requires exercising power not found in Art. I Section 8 of the Constitution. The North made it clear by the 1860 Elections that if they had the Presidency and majority of Congress, they will do whatever they want regarless of what the Constitution says.

        The South saw all this coming and seceded. There’s not one sentence or sentence fragment in the US Constitution stating that the Union is indissoluble; by the 10th Amendment that power is still retained by the individual States. The North had to ignore that which is clearly written in the Constitution (10th Amend.) in order to force (onto the South) something (Union is indissoluble) that has absolutely no basis in reality.

        That’s what the Civil War was about.

  3. nnfjfjfnvn

    stupid idea

    • So it’s stupid to try to erase the horrible tragedy that comes along with the name of a racist? Don’t tell me its stupid that we’re trying to push forward to the more accepting future rather than sitting in the past along with the incredibly disgusting series of events that took place. Don’t tell me trying to change something for the BETTER is stupid just because you’re worried about “losing memories” (that for your information by the way can’t magically be lost if they were already made). Don’t tell me fixing something that’s offensive to many is stupid and DO NOT tell me a movement as positive and productive as this one is stupid.

  4. Remember what Orwell said “those who control the past control the future”. The neo-confederates/Lost Cause movement are the ones who rewrote history and tried to make the South’s cause sound noble as if it was a land of principled men and happy slaves singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah in the fields. I mean golly-gee, all they did was start an insurrection against an evil Mr. Lincoln who wanted to infringe on states rights a.k.a their right to own slaves. It’s about time that people stand-up to these in-your-face names and change ALL the places and things named after the traitors. Leave statues up honoring the generic dirt poor farmer who fought as a reminder that war is hell, but don’t glorify the generals and president with naming of schools, highways, bridges, counties. Every single one of them could have been executed at the end of the war but their lives were spared to help ease reconciliation but the South still hasn’t reconciled. It’s sad really, that all they have to cling onto is a war they LOST 150 years ago. Full disclosure, I went to J.E.B. Stuart and Robert E. Lee, I’m a direct descendent on both sides of my family of Confederate soldiers and the names never sat right with me.

  5. Pingback: How should teachers respond to confederate named schools? | Learning Flourishes in an Environment Free of Racism

  6. It’s unfortunate this country is trying to erase your sacrifice and valor. I will always honor your sacrifice, Major General.

  7. Pardon my ignorance as an admitted Yankee and please explain to me exactly what is noble about the Southern Tradition. The readers digest version of the Civil War that we got up north is that the Civil War was about slavery. I am unclear about why we need to honor the side that was willing to die in order to continue to enslave African Americans. When I see a confederate flag I think that the person flying it thinks slavery was a good idea. If that is not the case exactly what point are they trying to make. I want to understand what I am missing.

  8. George Washington was a slave owner, should we remove him from government buildings as well, especially from the U.S. Capitol Rotunda or the plethora of other places?

  9. D. Wayne Jones

    Since our nation was once an English Colony, you could say that Washington, Jefferson, et. al, were traitors. I see no reason to go back and try to rewrite history. Many of the confederate generals were West Point graduates and heroes of the Spanish-American wars.

    • Yes once you start down this road it gets “slippery.” Fairfax County needs to look into everyone a school is named after….and not piecemeal this. You will be quite surprised about some of our past heroes and founds…..let’s start with the Thomas Jefferson Magnate High School and look into Jefferson’s life and I am sure you will find some things that some group will find offensive like being a slave owner, for example….so let’s put this school on the name change list.

  10. Rex Darmstaedter

    You sorry ass mother “F”ers! You want to destroy HISTORY! Nazis! Nazis are what you are! Nazi Fascists in Liberal clothing! You will NEVER take the South’s History. As you disband the Confederate Flag, it’s popularity RISES! Because of you, THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN!

  11. i tried to find the anti-change petition on change.com to no avail, can anyone point me in the right direction so i can voice my opinion? tyia
    side note: when is the mandate to level the jefferson memorial and mt.vernon going to happen?

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