Parents, historians urge DC’s Mayor Bowser to initiate Wilson High name change

Thousands of people have signed a petition asking Lewis Ferebee, the D.C. schools chancellor, to change the name of Tenleytown’s Woodrow Wilson High School.

And now, the group behind the petition has sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser seeking her support.

In the weeks since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, many communities are investigating the relevance of the names bestowed upon their local high schools. In D.C., thousands of residents have signed a petition calling for Woodrow Wilson High to change its own name.

If successful, the school would join the list of those that have been renamed, or are on the verge of being renamed: Robert E. Lee, T.C. Williams, JEB Stuart and the Fairfax High School sports teams, which used to compete as the “Rebels,” are among them.

Woodrow Wilson was the 28th U.S. President, serving two terms starting in 1913.

During that period, according to a number of D.C. historians, Wilson crippled the upward mobility of African Americans who had jobs in the federal government.

Wilson segregated the previously integrated civil service and demoted a number of Black supervisors. The historians accuse Wilson of stunting the growth of the District’s Black community just a half century after the Civil War ended.

Judith Ingram is a co-founder of the D.C. History and Justice Collective, one of the groups pushing to remove Wilson’s name from the school. Ingram is a parent of a current student and another who graduated from Wilson in the recent past.

She said she believes a president who stunted opportunities for Black people in D.C. should not be honored by one of the city’s most diverse high schools.

“All students of that school deserve respect and deserve to feel welcome when they walk in the doors of that school,” Ingram said.

She said honoring a person like Wilson sends a poor message when in general, society should be honoring the ideals of diversity, respect, equality and inclusion.

The push to change the school’s name comes on the heels of Princeton University’s recent decision to remove Wilson’s name from its School of Public Policy.

In the letter to Bowser, the group wrote that it already has support from the D.C. State Board of Education, and it wants the mayor’s support, too. It asked why she hasn’t already advocated for the change.

“Mayor Bowser, we call on you to end the silence today and initiate the name change,” the group wrote. “Washington may not be the fastest to end the shameful allegiance to a tarnished figurehead but it can yet be the model for affirming our civic values over the racist history that continues to shape our city’s inequities today.”

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