Alexandria City Public Schools have acknowledged that Thomas Chambliss Williams was a racist and segregationist, and on Friday the School Board will decide on moving forward with the renaming process for T.C. Williams High School.
On the table is a proposal to begin the renaming process by directing Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. to initiate a public engagement process this fall, followed by a report with recommendations next spring.
According to the motion going before the board:
It is well documented that throughout his tenure as Superintendent, Thomas Chambliss Williams exhibited racism, fought to maintain segregation in ACPS, and promoted the school division’s massive resistance to desegregation efforts. This is inconsistent with the forward-looking vision and values expressed in the Equity for All 2025 Strategic Plan.
I THEREFORE MOVE, pursuant to Section III.B. of Regulation FF-R, that the School Board officially consider the request to rename T.C. Williams High School. Accordingly, the School Board hereby empowers the Superintendent to initiate the public engagement process, outlined in Section I. of the regulation, to solicit community feedback and possible nominations for renaming T.C. Williams High School.
There are roughly 4,000 students who attend T.C., and it is the largest high school in Virginia. Last month, in the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations after George Floyd’s death, the Alexandria City Public School system condemned systemic racism, and a petition to rename the school was submitted to the board. More than 170 people signed it, including Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein.
Williams was the superintendent of the city school system from the 1930s to the 1960s and was a segregationist who advocated against integration.
Lindsey Vick and Marc Solomon are leading the new fight to get the school renamed. Two previous efforts to change the name failed, and Vick and Solomon want a faster resolution.
“While we understand the enormous challenges in reopening, we cannot accept an extended process to simply decide to change the name,” the pair told ALXnow in a statement. “We believe the school board can vote to remove the name immediately and have a new name chosen by the end of the year. Neighboring districts and districts across the nation have acted faster. Alexandria can, too. Our children are watching.”
The current placeholder name is Tubman-Chavez High School.
“Harriet Tubman was a black female freedom fighter and César Chávez was an important Latino civil rights activist,” notes an ACPS staff report. “[They were] incredible Americans whose names would honor our high school while allowing it to keep the initials ‘T.C.’ They would provide representation to students who do not see their heritage adequately in Alexandria schools’ names… This name change can preserve most branding, allow students to still be part of ‘T.C.,’ and remove this stain on our history.”
Staff photo by Vernon Miles
Alexandria African American activists and leaders virtually came out in force on Sunday to demand that T.C. Williams High School be renamed.
“When I first learned that the high school that I graduated from was named after a segregationist and a racist, I was appalled,” said Lindsey Woodson Vick, a T.C. grad, who organized and led Zoom chat with advocates for changing the school name. “We owe better to the people who came before us and the people who will come after us.”
Vick’s father, Howard Woodson, led an effort to change the school name in the early 2000s.
Woodson, the former president of the Alexandria NAACP, wanted to get the school renamed when the school board approved a massive renovation in 2004.
“When I came to Alexandria in ’75, I was appalled to find out that a couple years before that the teachers lounges have been segregated,” Woodson said. “Black teachers were not allowed to go into the same lounge with white teachers. The school board heard our statement and did nothing, decided to keep the name and here we are today.”
The city, over the last month, has seen Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death, prompting the Alexandria City Public School system to condemn systemic racism, in addition to increased focus that has been put on the police and quality of life issues throughout the city.
Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was the superintendent of the city school system from the 1930s to the 1960s, was a segregationist who advocated against integration. A petition to rename the school was submitted to the school earlier this month, and more than 170 people signed it, including Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein.
“I do not want my daughter having to see that name every day when she goes to school,” said one parent. “That’s just shameful.”
Vick said that the school board has agreed to put the issue up for discussion in September, but that she wants the board to address it next month.
“We need to remain vigilant and make sure that the school board right this is something that needs to be done today,” Vick said. “Not tomorrow, not next week, not in September, but now.”
Board Chair Cindy Anderson said that wouldn’t be possible, except to open the topic for discussion. The upcoming July 10 meeting will cover the reopening plan for this fall, and she said that the school system has so far been focused on contending with the pandemic.
“We actually have to let people know before we vote,” Anderson said. “We have to have public engagement before we vote to even change the name.”
Anderson added, “I understand the urgency… I’m in communication with, with the superintendent and the policy person about this and the kinds of things that we need to do to follow the steps that have been in our policy.”
Glenn Hopkins led an effort to try to get the name changed in the 1990s, and hopes for different results this time around.
“We absolutely must change the name of T.C. Williams High School,” he said. “We don’t have a choice because the time is now, and I expect my friends on the school board to get behind this and make up what for they should have done years and years and years ago.”
Christopher Harris, the current Alexandria NAACP president, is a T.C. graduate, and said he was always proud to be a Titan, until he began to understand who T.C. Williams was.
“Every time someone goes in that school, they have to walk underneath the name and a banner of an individual that does not want us there,” Harris said. “Not only will it be a political issue, it’s gonna be an ethical issue, an issue that a lot of people are gonna have to look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘Okay, it is time to make this change.'”
Photo via ACPS/Facebook
The school was built on land taken by eminent domain from a nearby black community and then was named in honor of Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams. Williams was an ardent segregationist who fought not only to keep the black and white students divided, but fired a school employee who tried to get her children sent to an integrated school.
A Facebook group played a prominent role in spreading a petition to rename the school, though efforts have since grown beyond just renaming T.C. Advocates also say Matthew Maury Elementary School, named after Confederate leader and oceanographer Matthew Maury, should be renamed as well.
In neighboring Arlington County, Washington-Lee High School was renamed Washington-Liberty early last year.
Defenders of the T.C. Williams name, which have popped up in the Facebook group, say the school’s name is part of a legacy beyond Williams — frequently citing the mostly inaccurate film Remember the Titans.
Staff photo by Vernon Miles
The Alexandria School Board has received a petition from the community, and the topic of renaming T.C. Williams High School will be addressed this fall, according to Board Chair Cindy Anderson.
The school system will also be looking at the names of all of its facilities, however no future date has been set in stone as ACPS is focusing on its reopening plan, Anderson said.
“We will look at this in the fall, but we’ll also be looking more holistically at names of all of our facilities,” Anderson told ALXnow. “It doesn’t make sense to address one when there’s discussion in the community about other schools.”
Anderson would not discuss her opinion on the subject, but added, “I think we need to have a discussion about names just generally before we decide what kind of process we might want to consider.”
As previously reported, another effort is underway to send the Board a petition on renaming Matthew Maury Elementary School. Maury, the father of oceanography, was a special agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and tried to found a new colony in Mexico after the Union defeated the southern rebellion.
“First of all, we have to decide as a board whether we wanted to pursue it at this time,” Anderson said. “If the answer is yes, then we’d have to devise a process that includes robust public engagement.”
T.C. Williams, who was the superintendent of the city school system from the 1930s to the 1960s, was a segregationist who advocated against integration. More than 170 people signed the petition to rename the high school, which is the largest in Virginia, including Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein.
T.C. graduate Lindsey Woodson Vick is one of the leaders of the effort.
“We have unprecedented support from a variety of stakeholders and feel confident that with continued momentum through the summer the name will be changed this fall,” Vick said.
Marc Solomon organized the petition and was critical that ACPS did not address the issue sooner.
“While understandable given the reopening crisis, it’s just unfortunate that our school board wasn’t able to make this happen sooner like other districts have done,” he said.
Staff photo by Vernon Miles
(Updated at 10:30 a.m. on June 24. A previous version of the story said that Maury was a slave owner.)
A new effort is underway to rename Matthew Maury Elementary School in Alexandria.
Matthew Fontaine Maury is considered a father of oceanography, but the Virginian was also a special agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War and tried to found a new colony in Mexico after the Union defeated the southern rebellion.
“The name seems so arbitrary,”said Glenn Klaus, who is leading the effort and has two children who attended the school. “He had nothing to do with Alexandria. Yes, he was a Virginian, but it just seems inappropriate in this day and age.”
Maury was also the first Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the first Hydrographer of the U.S. Navy. He also has a statue in Richmond.
“I find it insulting for the school to be named after him, especially since the majority of students there are black” Klauss said.
Klaus was inspired to rename the school after residents sent a petition to the School Board to begin a renaming process for T.C. Williams High School.
More than 170 people signed that petition, including Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein.
“T.C. Williams was an arch-segregationist who did everything in his power to segregate Alexandria’s black students from its white students,” says the petition to the board. “He was against everything for which our high school, our school system, and our community stand. It is not only unacceptable that Alexandria ever honored Williams by naming our only high school for him, but it is reprehensible that nothing has been done to change it. It is long past time to remove the name of a known racist, arch-segregationist from our city’s high school.”
Photo via ACPS
T.C. Williams High School held a graduation ceremony like no other on Saturday, with world champion sprinter Noah Lyles, members of the student body, the superintendent and principal — while most of the school’s 865 graduates never left the comfort of their homes.
The virtual ceremony was the first of its kind in the history of the Alexandria City Public School system, as all schools throughout Virginia were shut down in March for the remainder of a school year that would also be defined by the state of race relations in the country. The graduating class of 2020 was also the largest in T.C. history, according to ACPS.
Lyles, a 2016 graduate of T.C., said that his life was also filled with adversity and that he is a lifelong asthmatic who was bullied in high school and is dyslexic.
“Facing those adversities are what got me here today,” Lyles said. “You need to know that you can make it through, because just this time period of 2020 will not be your last, and you can make it to the next one, and the next one and the one after that, and you will look back on the times of 2020 and say, ‘I got through that, and I came out stronger than ever.'”
Class President Amiya Chisolm said that she and her classmates faced a school year full of uncertainty and that it will make them stronger in the future.
“Right about now we had envisioned going to our prom, senior cookout, walking around the hallways of our elementary and middle schools and even hearing our names celebrated as we walk across the stage at (George Mason University),” Chisolm said. “Instead, we were unexpectedly hit with a pandemic that not only took away our plans — and some of our loved ones — but also blurred our futures. In addition to this pandemic, we have also witnessed multiple murders in the black community at the hands of police brutality.”
Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., said that the class made history with its virtual graduation, and that it will be defined by righting societal wrongs.
“These are times when we can actually collectively feel the uncertainty, the stress, the anxiety as individuals, as families as a school division and as a nation,” Hutchings said. “Class of 2020, we must advocate for social justice and anti-racism in America, regardless of your race, regardless of your background. This is a new time in all of our lives when all lives must matter and we must rethink our priorities, our values and reinvent a new normal.”
T.C. Principal Peter Balas said that the class of 2020 was one of the most special he has ever led, and challenged the graduates to lead the way in the future.
Images via ACPS/Facebook
Alexandria had quite a week, and it’s time to look back as it comes to a close.
In addition to moving into the second phase of its economic recovery, there were a number of important events of interest, including the city council’s passage of an ordinance prohibiting firearms on city property, approved the creation of a police review board, continued expressions of support for the black community in the wake of the George Floyd Murder, and a renewed effort to rename T.C. Williams High School.
Here are the top 11 most-read articles this week in Alexandria.
- BREAKING: Barricade Situation, Suspect Firing on Police on Main Line Boulevard
- What Changes When Alexandria Moves Into Phase 2 of Reopening
- T.C. Williams High School Renaming Question Resurfaces in Alexandria
- Man Wounded in Late Night Old Town Shooting, No Arrests
- Photos: Vigils and Protests Against Police Brutality Held in Alexandria
- Protests and Vigils for Racial Justice Planned in Alexandria
- Old Town Property Once Owned by George Washington For Sale at $4.1 Million
- Mayor: Alexandria Could Move into Phase 2 of Reopening Next Week
- Morning Notes
- Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats Plans to Open Late This Summer in Old Town
- Just In: Alexandria Tow Truck Driver Killed on I-495
Feel free to discuss those or other topics in the comments. Have a safe weekend!
Alexandria Enters Phase 2 of Reopening Economy — “Under phase two, the maximum number of people allowed to gather increases from 10 to 50. Restaurants can open indoor dining at 50 percent capacity, and fitness centers can open at 30 percent capacity.” [Alex Times]
Del. Herring Supports Criminal Justice Reform — “As legislators there is a lot of work ahead of ahead of us. This piece was originally published in 2018 & updated. From policing to solitary confinement this is worth reading & then acting.” [Twitter]
Sheriff and Staff Congratulate T.C. Williams High School Graduates — “You’ve handled it with true Titan spirit — responsibly, creatively and boldly! We’re so proud of you and we will always remember the 2020 Titans!” [Facebook]
Locals Create Face Mask Company — “The masks sell for only $5.00 apiece in packs of 3/$15 for a very breathable fleece, and 3/$20 for the scuba knit. They also have adorable children’s masks, in colorful fabrics, sized appropriately.” [Zebra]
Old Town Books Closed Sunday in Recognition of Black Lives Matter Protestors — “Our storefront will be CLOSED this Sunday, June 14 to stand in solidarity with protestors in Old Town. We’ve also extended our donations from the antiracist reading list on our homepage, with 20% of sales from those books going toward the Black Lives Matter movement. A lot of the books on the list are in high demand right now and are taking a bit longer than usual to receive, so we appreciate your patience as we continue to fulfill all your orders!” [Facebook]
fibre space Staying Closed Until Next Week — “While northern VA will begin phase 2 tomorrow, we will remain closed to the public for in store shopping until some time next week. This will allow us to monitor Nova cases of covid as well as figure out a schedule for the team that balances processing web orders with hosting customers in the shop. More details to come. See you soon.” [Facebook]
Bishop Ireton High School Raises $70K for Annual Fund — “We did it! Thanks to YOU and your generosity, we met our goal of getting a donation from every state (and DC) during our 2020 Annual Fund Day of Giving. We raised more than $70,000 with a number of first time donors. Thank you for supporting Bishop Ireton, our current students and faculty and the future of our school.” [Facebook]
New Job: Event Manager — “The Individual will be responsible managing part and full time employees in operations, logistics, and events. The position requires a strong Project Management background to ensure the continued success of our various events offered throughout the country.” [Indeed]
World champion sprinter Noah Lyles will give the keynote address at the T.C. Williams class of 2020 graduation on Saturday, June 13.
The ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m.
Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., on Thursday reminded the city to commemorate the occasion by lighting up their homes in red, white and blue. He also said that the George Washington Masonic Memorial will be also lit up that night.
“Please show your support by sharing photos and comments on our social media pages with the hashtags #TCW2020 and #TitansRising,” Hutchings wrote. “On Saturday evening we want to see the entire city lit up in our Titan colors of red, white and blue. The George Washington Masonic Temple will lead the way.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner will provide a congratulatory statement, and class president Amaya Chisolm will speak, in addition to Principal Peter Balas and Hutchings.
Photo via ACPS/Facebook
ACT for Alexandria Calls COVID-19 a Racial Issue, Sends $900K to Nonprofits — “To work towards a community where all Alexandrians have an equal chance of living prosperous, fulfilling lives, we must work together to address systemic racism. That is a tall order. But together we can make a difference. Your support of the ACT Now COVID-19 Response Fund is an important step. That support allows our community to better respond to the needs of our neighbors facing overwhelming challenges.” [ACT for Alexandria]
Beyer Finds Fault in Indicted Fairfax County Police Officer — “This officer’s actions were unjustified, and he failed his oath to protect and serve. Body-worn camera footage clearly shows he escalated the situation with unnecessary violence against an unarmed black man.” [Twitter]
Police Disproportionately Use Force Against Black Alexandrians — ” Force is used against black males more than any other group, according to numbers compiled by the police department and acquired through a public-records request… In the most recent report, which covers 2019, 54 percent of the instances of use of force was against African Americans. That’s significantly higher than the black population in Alexandria, which is 23 percent.” [Gazette]
Alexandria Black History Museum Executive Director Makes Statement on George Floyd’s Death — “All keepers of African American heritage pledge to forever say George Floyd’s name, preserve the history he represents, and educate the public about the millions of brilliant minds lost to hate in America.” [Zebra]
Alfred Street Baptist Church Pastor Marchin in D.C. on Sunday with NAACP — “We want to personally invite ALL believers to join Pastor Wesley and the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Collaboration with the NAACP for a Prayer Walk for Peace and Justice on this Sunday, June 14 starting at 6am ET. We’re gathering at the NAAMHC and walking to the newly named Black Lives Plaza, NW in Washington, DC. Visit our website to register.” [Facebook]
Joe Theismann’s Restaurant Reopens — “The restaurant will be open for take-out and delivery via online ordering at Theismanns.com, delivery via select third-party apps, and walk-in patio dining. The restaurant will debut an adjusted menu for lunch and dinner, and will be open Sunday through Thursday from 12 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 12 – 10 p.m.” [Theismann’s]
Hundreds Sign Petition to Rename T.C. Williams High School After Petey Jones — “Additionally, we believe the name should be changed to honor one of the men who participated in giving the school that reputation, and who worked as a longtime employee at T.C. Williams High School. Petey Jones died in 2019 of prostate cancer. We believe that T.C. Williams should be renamed after him. Please sign this petition if you agree.” [Change.org]
New Job: Assistant Magazine Editor — ” Content creation and coordination for national trade association magazine, including reporting, writing, editing and contributing to monthly print edition (circulation 40,000) and weekly digital newsletters.”[Facebook]
After the long-awaited removal of the confederate Appomattox statue at Prince and Washington Streets, some in Alexandria are turning their attention back to a long-simmering discussion about whether T.C. Williams High School should be renamed.
It’s no secret that Thomas Chambliss Williams, the superintendent of Alexandria schools from the ’30s to the ’60s, was an ardent segregationist who fought against uniting black and white students in the school system. Williams notably fired a black employee who participated in an NAACP lawsuit against the city, though he claimed race had nothing to do with the decision, according to Zebra.
A Facebook group has sprung up around trying to change the name. The group’s leadership is less firm around what the new name should be. The current placeholder name is Tubman-Chavez High School, though other suggestions have included Alexandria High School or Parker-Gray High School in honor of the school that closed in 1965.
This isn’t the first time the topic of renaming T.C. Williams High School has come up. The topic divided the School Board in 2017 after protests to the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, according to Theogony, the student-run newspaper at the school. Theogony reported that some School Board members were concerned that changing the name could hinder donations to the Scholarship Fund — an organization currently hindered by COVID-19 after its annual gala was canceled.
A spokesperson for Alexandria City Public Schools said the name cannot be changed by a principal or superintendent but would require School Board approval.
The official policy on renaming a school is:
The School Board may, at its discretion, consider requests to rename an existing school. The following procedure shall be followed when renaming an existing school to honor individuals or to recognize places or historical events for their contribution to the community or their impact on it. As outlined in Appendix A, such requests must be submitted to the Clerk of the Board with an accompanying petition of 100 Alexandria residents who support the request. In addition, the following procedures shall be followed:
A. Existing schools may be renamed for, but are not limited to, individuals who have made an exceptional and extraordinary contribution to a particular school, school program, or to the school division as a whole; provided, however, that any individuals for whom an existing school is to be renamed shall no longer be an active employee of Alexandria City Public Schools. Existing schools may also be renamed in recognition of a place or event of historical significance related to the school facility itself. Names that could cause confusion with other public facilities in Alexandria, or in adjoining jurisdictions and other areas of the Commonwealth should be avoided.
B. If, after receipt of the request and supporting petition, the Board votes to pursue a request to rename an existing school, the Superintendent will follow the naming process as outlined in Section I. above.
C. Such requests may be submitted at any time, provided however, that following the rejection of a request for renaming an existing school by the School Board, the same or substantially the same recommendation may not be considered again until 12 months after such rejection.
All requests shall include: (1) the name(s) of the individual and/or group(s) making the request; (2) biographical/historical data concerning the proposed name; (3) the rationale for the request; and (4) a petition of 100 Alexandria City residents in support of the request. Appendix A contains the forms to be used for such requests.
Staff photo by Vernon Miles
High School Student Assaulted Walking Home — “The assault occurred near the intersection of Russell Road and Rosecrest Avenue in the Del Ray/Rosemont neighborhood. The victim was a member of the T.C. Williams High School baseball team.” [Alex Times]
Officers Complain of Toxic Work Culture at Alexandria Police Department — “There are employees, including some who resigned after allegedly being subjected to retribution, who blame Chief Michael L. Brown for establishing an environment without discipline or accountability, where misconduct is swept under the rug. They say that under Chief Brown’s leadership, problems have gotten worse, which has fueled retirements and resignations from the department.” [Alex Times]
Vigil for Victims of Police Brutality Tonight in Arlandria — “Let’s join in solidarity with our Black community. Please bring a candle, poster, or other tribute to honor the lives lost at the hands of police. We will gather in the parking lot behind TWU’s building at 3801 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22305. For everyone’s safety, please wear a face covering.” [Facebook]
fibrespace Gives May 31 Profits to ‘Innocence Project’ — ‘Thanks to your shopping, we sent almost a thousand dollars today to this incredible organization who is working to exonerate the innocent and reform our broken criminal justice system.” [Facebook]
George Mason Elementary Donates Books to Community Lodgings — “The principal, Mr. O., was so generous to collect the books and spread them around the lawn at Fifer so that families could select books while maintaining a safe distance from one another.” [Facebook]
Virtual Concert Saturday Benefiting Senior Services of Alexandria — “100 percent of your contributions to the Löwball virtual tip jar for our June 6th webcast will go to support SSA Meals on Wheels program.” [Facebook]
Wesley Housing Closes on Affordable Housing Near Huntington Metro — “Located at 2317 Huntington Avenue, The Arden will be a seven-story building at the intersection of Huntington Avenue and Biscayne Drive.” [Zebra]
New Job: Brand and Public Relations Specialist — “The Specialist, Brand and Public Relations is a core member of the SHRM Brand and Communication team with responsibilities to support national TV commercials, brand activations, PR campaigns and earned media to amplify SHRM’s thought leadership and reputation.” [Indeed]