Roll over, Roger B. Taney. In Prince George's County, you're history.
The county Board of Education voted unanimously last night to rename a middle school once dedicated to Taney, a 19th century Supreme Court justice remembered for upholding slavery, in honor of Thurgood Marshall.
The school's name had been in a sore point in the county almost since the day it was dedicated more than 30 years ago. Taney, a native of Calvert County, was chief justice of the United States in 1857 when he wrote the Dred Scott decision, in which he held that slaves were property and therefore could not hold U.S. citizenship.
But it was not until last month that two school board members, acting at the request of the school's students, staff and parents, proposed rechristening it after Marshall, who like Taney was a Maryland-born member of the nation's highest court.
"Roger B. Taney was a racist judge," said Tia Joseph, 13, an eighth grader at what, as of today, is officially Thurgood Marshall Middle School. "I believe almost everyone would want to have a school named in honor of a man who showed himself worthy of such a proud title."
Over 20 people, black and white, teachers and parents, testified in support of the name change, arguing that it was long overdue.
"As a student at a school that is 83 percent black, I cannot be proud of the name of a man who did not consider me even a citizen," said Abdullah Pope, a Taney eighth grader.
Some said the move was a small but significant sign of the progress Prince George's has made during its transition into a predominantly black suburb.
"The renaming of Roger B. Taney Middle School to Thurgood Marshall Middle School symbolizes a sensitivity to the African-American majority of this county. It is the right thing to do," said Lottie Sneed, a member of the Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington.
Sheila Jackson, PTA president of an elementary school that feeds into Marshall Middle School, said the name change would have a profound difference in the life of her family. She and her husband would have refused to send their four children to a school named for Taney, Jackson said.
"Until now we have not felt that it was going to be possible for us to fully support our neighborhood middle school," she said.
After the vote, the school board got a 30-second standing ovation and then recessed so the audience could celebrate with cookies and punch. Anganette Mack, 14, smiled as she looked down at her red and white T shirt, which still bore Roger B. Taney's name.
"We are going to throw these away," she said.