The Alexandria, Virginia, school board has voted to rename two schools, one of which gained worldwide fame for the film “Remember the Titans.”
The board Monday voted 9-0 to rename T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.
“This is a historic moment for everybody,” Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings said Monday.
School board member Heather Thornton called the renaming of the schools an “important first step,” and she hopes that people will stay engaged throughout the process.
“I do hope that everybody that has been part of the process understands that this is a symbolic step, changing the name of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury is not really going to do anything to eliminate the systemic issues and barriers that we have at the school division,” Thornton said.
The city’s high school opened in 1965 and was named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, the Alexandria schools superintendent from the mid-1930s until 1963. He resisted desegregation and argued that Black and white students learned differently and should remain in separate schools, the Alexandria City Public Schools website said.
Aside from serving in the Confederate Navy, Matthew Maury helped a acquire a ship for the Confederacy, while advocating to end the Civil War. He is considered as the “father of modern oceanography and naval meteorology.”
School board member Michelle Rief said she disagrees with those who may argue that changing the names of these institutions is somehow changing or erasing history.
“We can’t change history, but we can change which history we choose to publicly honor,” Rief said.
She believes that these names were not selected because of the accomplishments of these individuals, but were instead a “declaration of our community’s values” at the time they were named.
“One of those values was that Black and white children learn differently and shouldn’t attend school together. That was wrong, and now we have an opportunity to right that wrong,” Rief said.
The process to rename T.C. Williams High School started last July, after a petition from community members urging the name be dropped.
One of the arguments against renaming school, according board member Christopher Suarez, may stem from the 2000 film “Remember the Titans,” and how the movie portrayed the school as “representative of integration.”
Suarez said that while the 1971 integration of the football team was an inspirational moment, “that fairy tale and story” hid the segregation in the community that has remained for decades.
Changing the name, Suarez said, represents the school system starting a “new path forward.”
WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.