Letters to the Editor for June 18 – 24, 2020
Nearly 700 Signatures Support Changing TJ Elementary’s Name
My name is Hayley Loftur-Thun, I am an alumnus of Falls Church City Public Schools, and I live with my family only blocks away from Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. In light of recent events, my curiosity was sparked and I was spurred into researching Thomas Jefferson further, after whom the very elementary school I attended is now named.
Through my research I came across very unsettling news about Jefferson, which led me to create a petition which has received 170 signatures in only its first two days being active. The petition now has nearly 700 signatures.
As I researched Jefferson, I came across a publication by the Smithsonian which revealed pages of Jefferson’s farm book that were purposefully hidden from public record in 1964 until rediscovered years later in 2012.
These pages contain passages written by Jefferson himself about how he enslaved and beat young African Americans as young as age 9, and took pride in these actions. In addition, The Smithsonian states not only did Jefferson himself own over 607 slaves throughout his lifetime, but he was extremely influential in spreading and promoting slavery through his creation of the four percent formula. This four percent formula stated for every black slave born, he calculated he earned a 4 percent profit each year, which he considered one of his major accomplishments at Monticello. He boiled down the life of a human being’s worth to a profit margin.
In a time when our silence belies complicity in injustice, these men on our monuments and names on our schools operate as powerful symbols. The time for change has come.
Although I realize history is complex and Jefferson was a complicated figure, I cannot stand by our City continuing to name an elementary school after a man who beat and enslaved children almost as young as the very children we drop off at its doors. This particularly disturbing historical evidence prompted me to propose changing the name of TJ to a new name chosen by our Falls Church City community to better reflect our values and new understanding of injustices in the past and even present. Please support this change.
Henderson 8th Grader: HS Name Change Is Excessive
I am a rising eight grader in MEH and I heard about the protests to change the names of Thomas Jefferson Elementary and George Mason high school, and I personally think that these names should stay the same.
If we were to change the names of these schools to something else just because they were slave owners, where would we stop. George Washington was a slave owner yet everyone looks past that because no one cares about the negative when it comes to him, because he was the first president and he was the one who led us to victory and freedom all those years ago.
I do not think we should focus on that one negative part of what they did, we need to focus on all of the positive things that they did to help this country. George Mason was a great man who really helped Virginia and its Declaration of Rights and he was a great advocate of the colonists that lived there. Why do we focus on the one bad part of someone’s life and use and bend that one part of history to make people change the name of a whole school.Thomas Jefferson was also a great man who greatly helped the country. He was the author of the Declaration of independence and he was the 3rd president of the United states.Again, why do we overlook the good things these men did and focus on the bad things. They were not people who fought to keep slavery around, I understand the want to change the names of schools who were named after confederate soldiers and generals, but I feel that changing the names of these two schools just because is a little over the top.
Use This Chance To Drop Mason’s Name Now; Jefferson Later
Imagine, a few years from now…in a world that just might happen….
“So in 2020, when the entire world finally took systemic racism and injustice against black people seriously, what did you do in Falls Church City?”
“Oh, well actually, I was on the FCC School Board, and we had an opportunity to change the names of two schools named after slaveholders, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson. But, uh, we didn’t.”
“Wait, wasn’t that the year the new high school school opened? You had to order new signs anyway, so it would have been really cost-effective to change that name, right?”
“Well, yeah, but we just couldn’t get it done in time. And, George Mason really did make contributions to the founding of our country. We talked about it and given the time and the expense, we felt that he still deserved to be honored by having our school named after him.”
“Wait. What contributions?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, it’s true he wasn’t important enough for anyone to actually learn about in school. But, I checked Wikipedia — he was involved in writing several passages in the Constitution. (Although he didn’t sign it.) And he owned hundreds of slaves and wrote a few words against slavery. (Although he never actually set any of his slaves free.)
“But Thomas Jefferson! Everyone knows he is a big deal. You couldn’t possibly remove his name. And so you couldn’t possibly change Mason either.”
“OK, wait, so the School Board decided to couple these two issues together, even though they didn’t have to do that? Why not change Mason first and then talk about Jefferson as a related but separate issue? For example, the Washington Cathedral removed some figures from stained glass windows and then, after discussion, kept others. (Although it’s hard to explain Jefferson to one’s kids: “It’s OK honey, in spite of massive worldwide protests about structural racism, your school retained the name of a man who had a relationship with his 15-year-old slave. When you’re a great man, you can do what you want and history will look the other way.”)
“Well. Back to Mason. Yeah, we said it had to be all or nothing, so we ended up with nothing.”
“OK, so let me make sure I understand this. In one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the country, while worldwide protests were happening daily about structural racism and oppression of black people, you demonstrated your community’s values by continuing to singularly honor a slaveholder in the name of your high school? Wow.”
News-Press Should Kickstart School Renaming Process
If the City of Falls Church schools are renamed, I suggest a community-wide naming contest sponsored by the News-Press as a first step in the process.
There are many views on why name changes for a high school or middle school might be desirable, how about hearing from the citizens of the community and their reasons why a particular one is appropriate?
A community-wide naming contest can be constructive, informative and provide residents input and a stake in the community’s future.
When the NASA Mars Rover is launched in July, it will carry the name “Perseverance”, the product of the “Name the Rover” essay contest with the winning name suggested by Alexander Mather, a seventh grader from Springfield, Virginia.
Renaming educational buildings should be an opportunity for public debate.
A contest would accomplish this with an explanation of the renaming and winning entry on permanent display in the schools for everyone to see.
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