One name is from a global perspective. The other is hyper-local. Yes, the saying goes that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, and there is no way the talented assortment constituting the Falls Church City Public Schools’ School Board could be accused of that. Choosing the new names for two of the City’s five public schools Tuesday night after almost a year of deliberations, the board settled on the high-minded worldly name of “Meridian” for its high school and down-home local “Oak Street” for its elementary school. The names replace George Mason and Thomas Jefferson, respectively, officially as of July 1, arising from heightened concern over the past year of mass public mobilizations on the issues of racial injustice that both of those Founding Fathers owned slaves.
We supported the board’s decision to change those names made by a unanimous vote among them last fall, even while many, including many highly respectable leaders and former leaders in the community, opposed the idea, many vehemently. Two of the seven School Board members resigned in the interim, though neither said it had to do with this contentious issue.
It was not primarily about the virtues or lack thereof of the Founding Fathers in question, in our view, nor about established traditions here. No, it was about the Years 2020 and 2021 and what an aroused American public expects today. This aroused public, after all, accomplished one of the most remarkable and courageous feats in the nation’s modern history when it mustered the resolve against crushing odds to unseat a sitting U.S. president who was an amazingly flawed and corrupt, racist crook. This American public adopted the slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” and that helped carry it to victory against Donald Trump last November. It is this American public that, really, has been acknowledged and honored by the school name changes in little ol’ Falls Church.
A name like “Meridian” is reflective in the minds of those on the board who talked about it, of the school’s exemplary International Baccalaureate program, focused on training and equipping world citizens, and not just ordinary ones. It has an elevated ring to it, the kind of name a devotee of the Renaissance or the Enlightenment might have preferred. In that context, it is a name that the otherwise exemplary Founding Fathers whose names were removed by Tuesday’s School Board vote, too, could like because it over-arches any particular moment or imperfect person’s contribution to the, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King called it, “long arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice.”
They were part of that, as are we today. Not like those Confederate knaves that racists promoted by naming schools, streets and monuments after in areas all over the South. Those names were of people on the wrong side of history, willing to spill the blood of fellow Amercans by the hundreds of thousands to perpetuate the cruel and inhuman institution of slavery.