Last week, the Arlington School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Washington-Lee High School.
Reasonable people can debate the virtues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as an individual and as a symbol. However, what cannot be debated is the iconic role of Washington-Lee High School in the history of civil rights in Virginia.
Against the backdrop of Massive Resistance, in 1959, Washington-Lee was the first high school in Virginia to admit black students; Washington-Lee was the first high school to graduate a black student, Stephen Thompson, in 1960; and it was the first school to have an integrated basketball team win a state championship, in 1966. The name of Washington-Lee High School is inextricably linked with these milestones of racial justice in Virginia. The school board’s decision disregards and destroys this legacy.
This is akin to renaming the Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., to avoid unpleasant memories from “Bloody Sunday.” Edmund Pettus was a Confederate general and grand dragon in the Ku Klux Klan. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is a National Historic Landmark for its role in the civil rights movement. These memories are what help us to avoid the mistakes of the past, and they need to be preserved.
Thomas Hafer, Arlington