CITY OF ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WDVM) — “I’m just excited about this moment. Finally, it’s here,” said Dr. Gregory Hutchings, ACPS superintendent, at the beginning of the school board’s special called meeting on Monday.
The Alexandria City Public School Board voted to rename Matthew Maury Elementary School and T.C. Williams High School. Maury served in the Confederate Army and Thomas Chambliss Williams, a former ACPS superintendent, was a segregationist.
“This is a historic moment for everybody,” Hutchings said. “For many, many years people have been trying to have the name of T.C. Williams changed and they have not been successful. I want to commend the board for allowing us to explore and be able to get information from our community as well as to educate our community.”
The name change process, dubbed the Identity Project by ACPS, started earlier this year thanks in large part to student advocacy. The school board developed an age-appropriate curriculum for thousands of its students to learn about Maury and Williams. 10th, 11th, and 12th graders learned about Blois Hundley, for example: the mother of eight and cafeteria worker who joined a federal civil rights lawsuit in 1958 to force Alexandria schools to let her children attend a whites-only school. T.C. Williams fired her, describing her actions as a “slap in the face.”
“The City of Alexandria and Alexandria City Public Schools participated in this history of massive resistance, which was an effort by jurisdictions throughout the state of Virginia, to resist the integration of public education and public schools,” board member Michelle Rief said during the board meeting Monday.
Fourth graders learned about Maury’s role in the Confederate Army as part of their introduction to the Civil War. The Daughters of the Confederacy worked to erect a statue of the oceanographer in the late 1920s, around the same time Maury Elementary was named. “This was a time in history when segregation was alive and well and when confederate values, that no longer reflect who we are today, were still celebrated,” ACPS said. “Students will be encouraged to discuss what they value about their school and what they believe it represents today.”
That was also part of Rief’s remarks: she said it’s important to contextualize school names — T.C. Williams High School was named after the former superintendent in 1962, at the height of the civil rights movement. Rief says Maury Elementary and T.C. Williams are a “reflection of the community’s values in 1929 and 1962.”
“One of those values was that Black and white children learn differently and shouldn’t attend the same schools,” Rief said. “That was wrong and we have an opportunity to right that wrong.”
Richmond’s Matthew Maury statue was removed in July. During her remarks, board member Heather Thornton recalled years of passing that statue while she was in school. She reminded her colleagues that the name changes are symbolic; that they are not going to change the systemic barriers school divisions face, like disproportionate suspension and graduation rates.
“I hope that all those that were in the process today will continue and offer their voices so that whatever name we pick is reflective of who we are as Alexandria City,” she said.