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Hopkins House Again Calls on School Board to Remove Racist's Name from High School

July 9, 2020 03:50 PM
Racist School Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams
[Text of letter from the Hopkins House Trustees sent on July 9, 2020 to the board members of the Alexandria City Public Schools]
Dear Chairperson Anderson and School Board Members:
As you are aware, Hopkins House and numerous other community groups and Alexandria citizens have petitioned you for removal of the name of an avowed racist and segregationist from the City’s only public high school. We understand that the school board plans to respond tomorrow, July 10, with a motion to “consider” this request. We write now, on behalf of Hopkins House and the children and their families this institution has served since 1939, to advise you that the motion as currently written is disappointing and remarkable for what it does not say and what it does not do:
  • The motion proposes that the school board “consider”, not commit to, changing the name of the high school.
  • The motion proposes to spend six months or longer producing a report that merely provides recommendations on whether to change the name – but does not change the high school’s current name, does not recommend a new name, and does not suggest a process for selecting a new name or engaging the community.
This is simply unacceptable and, quite frankly, a shameful response to an issue of such importance and timeliness.
For reasons we cannot fully understand, the school board seems resolved to show as little leadership as possible in ridding this community of another symbol of racism and hate. All that is being asked you is to say, unequivocally and without hesitation, that racism and hate have no place in the Alexandria City school district and, therefore, the name “T.C. Williams” is removed from the public high school immediately.
Certainly, every school board member knows by now that T.C. Williams High School is named in honor of a racist. Thomas Chambliss (T.C.) Williams was superintendent of the Alexandria City Public Schools from the 1930s until 1963. School board members also know that it is an indisputable historical fact that he was a proud and committed segregationist who, despite the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court decision, refused to integrate the public schools for five years until he was ordered to do so by the courts.
Among his many racist and hateful acts while Superintendent, was the firing of an African-American cafeteria worker who dared ask that her child be allowed entrance to a Whites-only school. He fired her merely for asking – and for being Black. This single act of hatefulness should be reason alone for the school board to remove his name, and yet you call for a month’s long study. This is shameful and suggests that the school board may be out of touch with the reality of the times in which we now live.
In the mid-sixties, during the birthing of the Civil Rights Movement, the school board named the newly built high school to honor the City’s longest serving public school superintendent (despite his protestations) while pronouncing its resistance to school desegregation. The irony is that this high school was established specifically – albeit under court order – to integrate and educate black and white children together.
The high school built 60 years ago to include Black children, when the City did not want them integrated among white children, should never have been named after an avowed racist and segregationist 60 years ago. The school board failed to correct itself 22 years ago when this issue was first raised publicly by Hopkins House; failed 16 years ago when the NAACP raised the issue again; did nothing a month ago when hundreds of Alexandria citizens petitioned; and, now, is poised to do essentially nothing again.
Why removing the name of a person whose racism is well documented and so widely known should at all be in question, and why the school board hesitates to act, is not only baffling but insulting. Students of color should not be educated in a building that bears a racist’s name and white students should not be educated in a building that casts them as conspirators in racist and hateful acts committed before they were born. It seems obvious to everyone, except the members of the school board, that the name of our only public high school is an unnecessary blight on one of the Commonwealth’s most progressive cities.
The arguments against change, or change now, are indefensible:
We are limited in what we can do by established policy and procedure.” The Superintendent, a graduate of T.C. Williams, says the School Board “must follow the process outlined in its policy and associated regulation which may include an extensive community engagement process.” This is simply not true. The referenced policy and associated regulation were adopted by the School Board nearly 25 years ago and have been amended six times since, as needs dictated. They can be amended again and a new processes created that recognizes the urgency of the need for change at this consequential moment in history. The school board is at liberty to change their own policies at will.
We cannot change the name now without knowing the new name.” To be sure, there will be much debate on a new name as several prominent contributors to Alexandria have already been suggested including Judge Nolan Dawkins, Hopkins House alumnus and first African-American player in the NBA Earl Lloyd and others. This is worthwhile and an excellent opportunity to educate citizens about the lives of some very worthy individuals. But, there should be little debate necessary to agree that “T.C. Williams” must be removed from the name of our City’s only public high school.
Changing the name will upset alumni.” Some alumni of the high school will certainly be unhappy with the prospect of a name change. After all, it is the site of some of their fondest memories growing up. But, we would argue that what alumni love are the memories of the warm experiences they had while students, not the school’s name. These alumni certainly deserve to revere their former high school and even continue to invest in the high school they can be proud of, not ashamed.
Changing the name diverts attention from the achievement gap.” It is true that there is a significant achievement gap between white and minority students in ACPS. If the school board wants to show how serious they are about closing that achievement gap, the school board can stop asking minority students to attend a high school named to honor a man who did not want them there, cared little about them, and cared even less about their academic achievement.
We need to focus on reopening the schools during this pandemic.” Yes, there is a pandemic going on right now and economic stress. But even so, the city government managed during this pandemic to remove the Appomattox statue on Prince Street. Confederate monuments are being taken down in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. The state of Mississippi has removed the Confederate flag from its state flag. Fairfax and Loudoun Counties have voted to change the name of schools named for leaders of the Confederacy. All this was done during and despite this pandemic. There is simply no excuse for inaction or delay on the part of the Alexandria City Public Schools.
We offer the more substantive argument that the high school’s current name is not only insulting to students of color, but chains all students – black and white – to a racist committed to institutional racism and bigotry. No student should have to carry such a burden of unapologetic hate and racism. The school board should want students and teachers alike to be proud of the high school at which they spend so much of their time.
Since 1939, Hopkins House has fought proudly alongside so many others in the City to promote and defend racial justice and equity for children and families of color in this City and elsewhere, and remains today firmly committed to helping to realize Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream that “Children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”. We are resolved now to continue fighting this battle, and determined to win – for the sake of all our children, black, white and brown. 
The time is now for the Alexandria City Public Schools Board to do what is right, smart, and honorable: Vote on July 10 to remove the name of an avowed segregationist and proud racist from our public high school. Further delay is not an option.