T.C. Williams High to be renamed in N.Va.
Alexandria’s School Board has voted unanimously to rename T.C. Williams High School, ending months of heated debate over whether the city’s flagship school — made famous by the movie “Remember the Titans” — should bear the name of a racist former superintendent who fiercely resisted integration.
The board also voted Monday to rename Matthew Maury Elementary School, whose namesake fought for the Confederacy. That vote also was unanimous, and almost every board member took a few minutes before the vote to comment on the significance of the moment.
“It was not easy, but we’re here,” said board member Heather Thornton, who is Black.
Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, who is Black and a graduate of T.C. Williams, will present options for new names in the spring. The school is Alexandria’s only public high school.
On Monday, Hutchings wore a special blue T-shirt bearing the words “Excellence, Equity, Engagement, Empowerment” to mark the evening. After the vote, he called it the best day ever.
“This is a historic moment for everybody,” he said. “For many years, people have been trying to change the name of T.C. Williams, and they really have not been successful.”
Thomas Chambliss Williams, who served as superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools from the 1930s to the 1960s, took a dim view of the 1954 Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which mandated desegregated public schooling nationwide.
Williams fought integration at every step thereafter, arguing that Black students learn differently, and even fired a Black cafeteria worker after she joined an NAACP lawsuit compelling his school system to end segregation.
Matthew Fontaine Maury, known as the “father of modern oceanography,” declined a commission in the U.S. Navy and joined the Confederacy shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War. After the war ended, he headed to Mexico, where he tried to establish a “New Virginia Colony” that would have re-created a version of the South’s plantation slavery and society.
The high school has held T.C. Williams’ name since the 1960s; the elementary school has borne Maury’s name since the 1920s.
“They were selected not because of the accomplishments of these individuals, but they were declarations of our community’s values in 1929 and in 1962,” said board member Michelle Rief. “One of those values was that Black and white children learn differently, and that was wrong.”
Monday’s vote came as a direct response to two community petitions filed with school officials shortly after nationwide protests erupted over the death of George Floyd, and systemic racism in America more broadly. Those petitions spurred months of heated debate in the Northern Virginia school system of 16,000.
Some in favor of keeping the name argued that, because of the “Titans” movie— which celebrates the perfect 1971 season of an integrated football team at the high school, led by a Black coach— the name of the high school has become a byword for Black achievement. Others insisted that changing the names amounted to a bad-faith attempt to erase history.
But their opponents— many of them people of color, and many of them in their teens — said that it was morally wrong to honor people who held racist beliefs, calling the names an insult to Alexandria’s present-day, diverse student body.
Board member Jacinta Greene said she cast her vote Monday on behalf of everyone who had tried and failed to alter the name and for students of color who suffered through unequal education in Alexandria.
“We need to remember those people who had to endure that pain,” she said.