Local Commentary

Editorial: Barbara Johns High School

Tonight is apparently the big night when the Fairfax County School Board convenes at the Luther Jackson Middle School near the intersection of Route 50 and Gallows Road in the greater Falls Church area of Fairfax County to decide on a new name for the high school that currently goes by the name of a Confederate General, J.E.B. Stuart High School. Stuart was a man who took a leadership role in killing many fellow American citizens in order to perpetuate slavery.

Tonight promises to be a momentous and historic occasion, and we urge the board to rise to the occasion of just that, to proudly stand up for racial and social justice, and to resolutely correct that badly-stained, racist decision made in the 1950s to apply that murderous Confederate J.E.B. Stuart name in retaliation for the 1954 Supreme Court decision to racially integrate America’s public schools.

These types of moves are symbolic, yes. But that does not mean they’re not important. In this case, it definitely matters, just as Black Lives Matter. Our nation still has a long way to go to redress the evils of slavery and other forms of institutionalized cruelty that are a regrettable part of our history. We’ve learned in the recent period that, sadly, racial prejudice is still a big part of our nation’s history. So, taking the step to resolutely and without apology repudiate this is what the school board has the opportunity to do tonight, and it should not let it pass.

When undertaking something of the highly moral nature of this, there is no room for wishy-washy and unsatisfying compromises. Reports that the new name favored by a number on the school board may be something as generic and nondescript as “Justice” High School is troubling in this regard. It would be, as they say, surprisingly “vanilla” and we are fearful it would become the subject of derision for its spineless and empty content. Justice? Whose justice?

In Mississippi this month, when a move was taken to expunge the name of a Confederate from a local school, the matter didn’t take two years. It took two weeks.

The new name of the school is Barack Obama. Now, that’s the kind of decisiveness in the face of a clarion call for real, serious justice that this kind of matter calls for.

It appears that a consensus among the activists who’ve taken up this cause, from the time not long ago when it was just a group of students and considered dead in the water, wants the school named for high school racial integration activist Barbara Rose Johns. We support that choice.

The affront associated with the J.E.B. Stuart name was directed against the African-American community and anyone who supported school integration. It would not make up for that to name the school for anyone who was not a living, breathing African-American hero.

We urge the school board to go for that historic and momentous choice.