November 12, 2023
W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax City, VA voted on Nov. 9 to rename its school after Carter G. Woodson, the pioneer of Black History Month.
W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax City, VA, voted on Nov. 9 to rename its school after Carter G. Woodson, the pioneer of Black History Month. The school was initially named for W.T. Woodson, a noted segregationist, when it opened in 1962. When the 2023-2024 school year begins, the school will operate under the new name, Carter G. Woodson High School. According to Patch, the Fairfax County School Board Chair Elaine Tholen said ahead of the final vote, “What I really love about this perfect symmetry is the fact that Carter G. Woodson, not only was he a professor, got his PhD from Harvard, but he also was a school principal.”
The school’s renaming process began after some students and parents began expressing concern about W.T. Woodson’s legacy. In 1959, Woodson wrote in response to the “Brown v. Board of Education” ruling, “The order to desegregate schools is highly improper and infringes on human rights. To force integration of schools is to force social mixing, since attendance in public schools is usually compulsory. It takes advantage of the immaturity of children in that it tends to use it to force upon both parents and children social adjustments to which so many parents strongly object.”
It is because of this initial opposition to integration that students, parents, and community members began pushing for the school board to change the name. Due to the policy of Fairfax County Public Schools system, the board is given broad power to change the name of a school or facility, in order to create an inclusive or respectful environment. According to Patch, they have already changed the names of two high schools initially named for Confederate officers.
Megan McLaughlin, who along with Abrar Omeish oversaw the public engagement process and presented the renaming measure, told the publication, “Through multiple community meetings, public hearings, and online feedback forms, we have engaged in rich discussion and gained a deeper understanding about our shared history.”
Abrar said of the choice to change the school’s name, “One of the things that screams the loudest to me in this story is not only that we have to turn the tide and correct what’s been wrong, but that complicity is not OK.”
Abrar continued, “[W.T. Woodson] perhaps wasn’t Robert E. Lee or J.E.B. Stuart, but he was someone who enabled through his power and inaction, having that power, did the wrongs of our past. That makes us reflect. What are the many ways that we continue to be complicit as a system as individuals in various harms unfolding in our society?”
Abrar also discussed the importance of creating narratives that increase diversity, saying, “It’s meaningful that Carter G. Woodson, being considered the Father of Black History, someone who was a contributor to the idea of an African American History Month, that that solution is through education.”
Abrar added, “I want us to take a moment to also appreciate what that requires. That resources and energies and blood, sweat and tears were spent to not only develop, but then to push forward and try to raise year, after year, after year, the importance of creating these narratives, so that a child in school’s first exposure to black people is not enslavement.”