2024-06-22 1:10 PM

‘Hangman’s Tree’ Plaque Must Go

The issue has been engaged in the City of Falls Church and the City’s School Board is now tasked with leading the effort on whether or not the names of two of the City’s schools — George Mason and Thomas Jefferson — should undergo name changes because those for whom they are currently named owned slaves.

However, almost all the accelerated efforts to change school names in the region and elsewhere now are focused on removing Confederate names, especially as recent awareness has served to correct the wholly-false revisionism that sought to establish a moral equivalency between the Union and the Confederacy in the Civil War. In reality, the treasonous Confederacy was a genocidal insurgency against our democratic nation instigated by those seeking to perpetuate the cruel practice of slavery. They are deserving of nothing but the greatest moral and political condemnation.

Many schools in the region and nationally were given Confederate names in an angry white supremacist reaction against the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision to integrate the nation’s public schools. Student activists at the nearby formerly-named J.E.B. Stuart High School in the Seven Corners area of Fairfax County were a few years ahead of the latest surge in corrective racial equality activity arising from the high-profile late-May murder of George Floyd. Stuart has been renamed Justice High, and moves are underway to strip the name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from schools Arlington and Fairfax.

There will be more. There are reportedly over 190 schools, mostly in the south, named for Confederates, including 23 in Virginia. But there are streets and highways, too, such as the Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) in Alexandria. In Falls Church, on matters of the Confederate legacy, there are two institutions that the News-Press is hereby calling to end:

1. The “Hangman’s Tree” plaque on the southeast corner of W. Broad and N. Virginia Avenues. Legend has it that it was once the site of an old oak tree which, as the plaque signifies, was “Used by the (Confederate) Col. Mosby to hang Union spies,” until it died and was removed about 25 years ago. The plaque, provided by the Falls Church Historical Society, erroneously claims the tree was removed in 1968. It was much more recent. The “Hangman’s Tree” plaque constitutes a monument to the Confederacy and shows that even a legend deserves rememberance in Falls Church. It serves as an ongoing taunt, akin to displaying a noose, to African-Americans and anyone dedicated to defending their inalienable human rights (like the Union soldiers who were strung up there). That plaque, a veritable noose, needs to be removed.

2. The annual tradition of Falls Church’s “Civil War Day,” set for May this year before it was canceled due to the pandemic, has a sad history of claiming a false equivalency between North and South. It must be fundamentally reimagined, if retained at all, with a thoroughgoing focus on the horrors of slavery and the abject genocidal immorality of the Confederate insurgency against the U.S.

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