The school board of Fairfax County, Virginia, voted on Thursday to rename Robert E. Lee High School after the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), effective this fall.
The high school, which despite the name change will remain in the Lee School District, said the motion was decided on after taking input from the public for a month.
According to a statement from the board, School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson said, “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.”
According to the demographic data from the 2019-2020 school year, the high school is majority-Hispanic, who make up 45.46% of the student population. Asian students make up 23.94%, followed by white students at 14.93% and black students at 12.97%.
“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 a colleague. “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.”
Lewis died last Friday at age 80 after battling pancreatic cancer. The Democratic congressman, famous for the role he played in the civil rights movement, represented Georgia for 33 years and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011. He will lie in state in the Capitol next week.
The school board’s decision comes as Confederate names are being expunged and statues toppled nationwide amid a widespread push to remove vestiges of slavery and racism. In the demonstrations that erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death, protesters in the former Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, ripped down a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis along the city’s tree-lined Monument Avenue.
The mayor of Richmond later mandated that all Confederate statues on city property be removed, leading to the removal of Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart, as well as Confederate Naval commander Matthew Fontaine Murray.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to remove all statues of Confederate figures from the Capitol, including a bust of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, whose Dred Scott decision in 1857 ruled black people could not claim the rights of citizenship conferred under the U.S. Constitution.