Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

State Attorney General Mark Herring opined last month that Arlington may, after years of resistance, have authority to remove the name of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from our portion of Route 1.

The coming debate unfolds as a slew of politically touchy name changes are underway at Arlington’s schools.

I’ve been chatting with players on both sides of the conflict over traditions and race that began with fireworks over the decision to rename Washington-Lee High School. (In September it will be Washington-Liberty.)

The issues are anything but cut-and-dried.

Arlington Public Schools, anticipating opening five new schools, on June 7, 2018, launched a new formal process with criteria for namings.

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In the recent past, schools named mid-20th-century for Confederate heroes were re-christened with little fanfare. In the mid-1990s, Cherrydale’s Thomas Nelson Page became Page Traditional, and then Science Focus. Stonewall Jackson in the Bluemont neighborhood became Arlington Traditional School.

The Woodlawn Secondary Program, which moved into the old Stratford Jr. High on Lee Highway in 1978, combined with the Hoffman-Boston middle school program. But, I’m told by founding principal Ray Anderson, it was referred to as the “Woodlawn program on Vacation Lane” to avoid confusion with the co-tenant Stratford program for special needs students.
The new process seeks to address sensitivities by requiring community engagement via volunteer committees, transparency and timely public notice.

Its scorecard so far: The Stratford building will become the new middle school named for Dorothy Hamm, a black parent who helped integrate Stratford in 1959.

The Stratford program will share a new campus with Woodlawn in upper Rosslyn now called “The Heights Building.” (Some parents have pushed to rename the program for Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.)

The newest elementary school has been named for beloved Arlington reading teacher Alice West Fleet. The newly renamed Montessori Public School of Arlington, formerly at Drew Model School, will move to the building until recently called Patrick Henry. And Drew Model School in late March was adjusted to be Charles Drew Elementary.

One steady critic of the process has been W-L alumni activist Dean Fleming.

In February, we both participated in an Arlington Independent Media panel on the process that took Robert E. Lee’s name off his alma mater. Fleming called it rigged and unfair, joining many alums who feel baffled at the seeming preoccupation with racial justice warriors.

“School board members have no business in this lane,” he told me afterward. “Avoiding angst in the community should be the prime directive. It appears the only way to decide things of this magnitude with little pain is to permanently take these decisions away from the small, easily influenced (from internal and external forces) and give them to the voters.”

Fleming’s nemesis, School Board member Barbara Kanninen, dismisses the idea of a rigged process. The board, she told me, more than once asked advisory committees to “rethink” proposed names, and the name “Loving” (for the legal pioneering interracial couple) proposed for W-L was ultimately rejected. “Alice Fleet was an educator, not a social justice warrior,” Kanninen said, noting also that Arlington’s most recent new elementary school was given the neutral name “Discovery.”

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Yes, she acknowledged, Dorothy Hamm fought for justice, but she was also a resident and parent.

The historic integration of Stratford was accomplished less by the students than “the moms of Arlington.”


Twenty months after the death of Leonard “Doc” Muse — the seven-day-a-week proprietor of the Green Valley Pharmacy — his store that served since 1952 remains boarded up.

The marker for the related historic district remains, but it appears few can match Muse’s tireless efforts to preserve that African-American-owned community institution.

Word in the Nauck community is that family members are seeking funding to reopen the fixture, which provided everything from prescription drugs to free bread.

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