A school district in Virginia has voted that a high school named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will be renamed for Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who died on July 17.
CNN reports that the Fairfax County School Board allowed people to submit suggestions for a month, and held a virtual town hall and a public hearing before voting to rename the school John R. Lewis High School. “The name Robert E. Lee is forever connected to the Confederacy, and Confederate values are ones that do not align with our community,” school board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax said in a news release from Fairfax County Public Schools. Kaufax submitted the proposal to change the name of the school back in February, according to WJLA.
Lewis died after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was the last of “the Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement, working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.
As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Lewis would march alongside Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on March 7, 1965—on what would become known as “Bloody Sunday”—as marchers clashed with Alabama state troopers as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Lewis bore the scars from that day—his skull was cracked by a state trooper’s billy club—for the rest of his life. The event was a major turning point in the civil rights movement as America witnessed the brutality on TV, which helped compel President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Lewis also served in the House of Representatives, representing Georgia’s 5th Congressional District for three decades. Some students at the school found its school name to be shameful, especially considering the makeup of its population.
“The name is, in all honesty, an embarrassment to the many students that attend Lee High School. It’s an 80 percent minority population that goes to that school every day. The choice is obvious to me,” Kimberly Boateng, a senior at Robert E. Lee High School, said during the public hearing. “Last night we heard from so many community members, students, and alumni about the amazing things that John Lewis did during his life. And I think many people would be proud to have that as the name of their school. I think it would be an honor for the community as well as I hope, the congressman’s family,” Kaufax told WJLA.
Sean Perryman, president of the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP, tweeted his enthusiasm for the change. “Y’all, we just renamed Robert E. Lee High School to John Lewis High School. When I was the education chair of @FairfaxNAACP in 2019, we were told we would never remove Lee from this community. We proved that we are this community. Step up and speak out, everyone!” his tweet read. The name change will be effective at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.