On Thursday, a northern Virginia school board unanimously voted to change a high school named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to be renamed to honor the late Congressman John Lewis (D.Ga.), who died at the age of 80 last Friday.
"The name Robert E. Lee is forever connected to the Confederacy, and Confederate values are ones that do not align with our community," said Fairfax County School Board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax, who had proposed the name change, according to a news release from the district. “Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and members of the community feel safe and supported. I believe that John Lewis’ extraordinary life and advocacy for racial justice will serve as an inspiration to our students and community for generations to come.”
The Fairfax County School Board voted to change the name of the school on June 23 and held a one-month period of public comment on possible new names, and held a virtual town hall meeting and a public hearing, before voting to change the school's name on July 23 to John R. Lewis High School.
“The Board heard from students, teachers and staff members, families, and the community about the old name,” chair of the board Ricardy Anderson said. “It was important for us to be mindful of these comments and to select a name that reflected the diversity and multiculturalism that currently exists at the school and in our community."
Congressman Lewis died last week following a six-month battle with cancer. Georgia's 5th Congressional District, which covers Atlanta, in the U.S. House of Representatives for over three decades.
Lewis was a leader in the civil rights movement, often alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was one of the original organizers of the 1963 March on Washington to draw attention to inequalities faced by African Americans.He took part in lunch counter sit-ins, joined the Freedom Riders in challenging segregated buses.
The board stated the name change will be effective for the 2020-2021 school year.