Local Commentary

Editorial: Change the Name Of Stuart High

The Fairfax County School Board is slated to finally decide Thursday whether or not to change the name of the J.E.B. Stuart High School. The school was named for the Confederate general when it was established in the late 1950s, and the powers that be named it that way in a racist reaction to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision mandating the integration of the schools. The naming was designed, among other things, to leave a lasting legacy of intimidation of African-American students attending the school. Thus, we strongly urge the school board to order the name change Thursday.

It was over two years ago that this issue was first raised. It came in the wake of the horrible murder of nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist whose photographic “selfies” featured him flaunting a Confederate flag. In response, the South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds, and since there have been moves all around the country to remove statues and other tributes to the Confederacy, including important steps taken in the City of Falls Church.

The News-Press, in an editorial in its July 15, 2015 edition entitled “Fairfax County’s Shame,” denounced the practice 60 years ago to retaliate against the integration of its public schools, and endorsing the movement to change the name of J.E.B. Stuart. We urged it then and nothing has changed our view. Today, the Washington Post joined the cause by editorializing, “Stuart’s name was chosen a century later to send an explicit message: Black people are not welcome here. Rationalizations about his military brilliance or his love of family can’t change that.”

Indeed, it has been disheartening to hear the lame arguments that have been forwarded in the last two years to defend the racially-tinged status quo.

We’d like to believe that we’ve moved beyond that, that in today’s world well-educated and well-heeled American citizens could move beyond the remnants of uglier days in our history to redress their persisting residues. Alas, while this is surely true for many, we’d like to believe a significant majority, it’s still not so easy.

Indeed, there are plenty of social markers in our present culture to remind us we still have a long way to go to achieve the full enfranchisement of all our people.

This phenomenon is due, among other things, to our dominant culture’s denigration of old fashioned themes of personal moral imperatives, substituting for them a reification of selfish self-interest. We live in an entitlement society, where people blessed with advantages are encouraged to believe they’re entitled to them with no commensurate responsibility for the total social context by which they enjoy them.

With this mentality, there is no notion that persons should put themselves into the shoes of the less fortunate. Such a lack of empathy underlies opposition to the J.E.B. Stuart name change.