As another school year begins in Washington, D.C., one elementary school has undergone major changes. Like many older schools, it will now be housed in a new, updated building. But this primarily black Southeast D.C. school will also be shedding its’ decades-old name: Benjamin Grayson Orr elementary, named for the city’s fourth mayor and a former slaveholder, is now Lawrence Boone Elementary School, named for the school’s first black principal.
WAMU reports that the name change was spurred by the school community, including its young students, who were shocked to learn about the history of their school’s namesake.
“As students and as faculty and as people involved in the school, we were like, ‘Well, as a predominantly black school, could we have that name represent us, our student body?’ And the students were just like, ‘No, that’s not right,’” special education teacher Kelly Jones told WAMU.
Of the school’s 400 kids, almost all are black, writes the radio outlet.
Schools and localities around the U.S. are renaming schools, highways, and other prominent landmarks tied to the country’s Confederate and slave-owning past. As WAMU notes, it’s not the only school in the DMV (shorthand for the metropolitan area of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) that has undergone or is undergoing such a change:
Last year, the Fairfax County School Board voted to change the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School to Justice High School; the name change took effect this July. And earlier this summer, the Alexandria City Council approved a name change for the Jefferson Davis Highway; it will be known as the Richmond Highway as of next January. A plan in Arlington to rename Washington-Lee High School was approved by the County Board, but is now facing a lawsuit filed by a group of students opposed to the move.
For the community that surrounds Lawrence Boone Elementary, however, the new name doesn’t just bring to mind a historic first for the school.
Described by neighbors as “the community father,” Boone was considered to be family by the school’s alumni.
As Eric Hodges Jr., a student who attended Orr in the early ‘90s, told WAMU, “You never really thought you were actually coming to school. You thought you were going to a grandparents’ house. That’s pretty much how he made you feel.”
Boone’s daughter, Littyce Boon, agreed that re-naming the school for her father was the best way to commemorate his life and legacy.
The new school building, which ran a grand total of $52 million, opened its doors on Monday, with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser cutting the ribbon on the school this past weekend.