The Fairfax County School Board voted to rename Robert E. Lee High School after the late U.S. Congressman John R. Lewis at its business meeting July 23. The new name will be effective for the 2020-21 school year.
“The Board heard from students, teachers and staff members, families, and the community about the old name,” said School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson. “It was important for us to be mindful of these comments and to select a name that reflected the diversity and multiculturalism that currently exists at the school and in our community. Rep. Lewis was a champion of the Civil Rights movement, and our Board strongly believes this is an appropriate tribute to an individual who is a true American hero. We will also honor his life’s work by continuing to promote equity, justice, tolerance and service in the work that we do.”
“The name Robert E. Lee is forever connected to the Confederacy, and Confederate values are ones that do not align with our community,” said Lee District School Board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax, who proposed the name change along with at-large member Karen Keys-Gamarra. “Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and members of the community feel safe and supported. I believe that John Lewis’ extraordinary life and advocacy for racial justice will serve as an inspiration to our students and community for generations to come.”
The Board voted to change the name of the school June 23 and held a one-month period of public comment on possible new names. A virtual town hall meeting was held July 15 and a public hearing was held July 22. Details about the process for the name change can be found online
Congressman John Lewis represented the state of Georgia in the U.S. House of Representative for 33 years. He was a civil rights leader and one of the original organizers of the 1963 March on Washington to draw attention to inequalities faced by African Americans. He also led the Selma to Montgomery march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. Known as Bloody Sunday, the civil rights demonstrators were marching to the state capital to demand voting rights for African Americans when they were met by armed police who attacked them. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law later that year and is considered one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history. Congressman Lewis was the recipient of many awards throughout his lifetime, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Congressman Lewis died on July 17, 2020.