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Alexandria school board votes unanimously to consider renaming T.C. Williams High School

WJLA – Washington D.C. logo WJLA – Washington D.C. 7/12/2020 Heather Graf
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On Friday, the school board for Alexandria City Public Schools voted to begin the process  of officially considering the request to rename T.C. Williams High School.  The unanimous vote took place at about 3:30 p.m. during a virtual meeting of the school board.

The school's name has been the subject of controversy for decades, because Thomas Chambliss Williams was a known segregationist.  According to Alexandria City Public Schools, he was superintendent from the mid-1930s until 1963.  During that time, Williams resisted desegregation and argued that black and white students learned differently and should remain in separate schools.

The school gained fame nationwide after Denzel Washington starred in the movie “Remember the Titans," inspired by the school's 1971 state championship football team.  That newly integrated football team is credited with bringing their community together during a time of intense racial divide.

But the film does not explain the history behind the school's name.

"You shouldn't have a high school celebrating a segregationist.  I take a lot of price in the T.C. Titan accomplishments, but not in his name. T.C. Williams," said retired Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook.  

Cook served as the city's first African American police chief.  He also played for the Titans' 1971 championship football team featured in "Remember The Titans."  He told ABC7 he supports the push to rename the school, saying a name like Williams' shouldn't be attached to an institution of learning.

"Why wouldn't that be changed? That's a misrepresentation of what T.C. became," said Cook.

The school board's decision to start the process of considering a name change came in response to a recent petition.  More than 100 people signed that petition, asking the school board to remove T.C. Williams' name from the school.

"This school should never have been named after a racist, but it was," said Lindsey Vick, who graduated from T .C. Williams in 1995.  "It's a stab every time I hear it.  I've actually stopped referring to my alma mater as that now.  Now i say the public high school in Alexandria, or that school that I attended."

Vick is part of the group of people behind the most recent petition to rename the school, which comes as protests against racial injustice and calls for change are happening across the country.   She knows this is not the first time the Alexandria community has tried to remove Williams' name from the school.  

"In 1998 this measure was brought before the school board, and they decided not to take it up.  It was brought up again in 2004, and again the school board declined to take it up," she said.  "It was brought to students' attention and another petition was drawn in January of 2020.  I understand nothing happened after that movement either."

She hopes this effort, finally, will be successful.

"It's past time to take the name down," she said.  "I believe that with the civil uprising happening all around this country, I believe with the political landscape being supportive of removing racist names and monuments from our institutions, that the time has never been more perfect. But the true time was back in the 1960s, when the school was in conception."

a group of people posing for a photo © Provided by WJLA – Washington D.C.

The motion approved by the Alexandria City School Board authorizes Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. to begin a public engagement process on the potential name change, but says that won't happen for a few more months.

"Given the global pandemic and the school reopening planning currently underway, the Superintendent shall initiate the public engagement process in the fall of 2020," the motion says.

The motion originally said the superintendent would then present a report with recommendations to the school board IN the spring of 2021.  During Friday's meeting, Dr. Hutchings suggested that the board change the language of the motion so that it says he will present a report with recommendations to the school board BY the spring of 2021.

That change was made after some people who signed the petition expressed frustration that school district leaders weren't doing enough.

"I would like them to take a firm stance, publicly condemn the name, and state their intention to change it," said Vick.  "They are asking us to trust this process will result in the name being changed, and the reality is that we have no basis for that trust."

The superintendent said his goal was to try to move the process along as quickly as possible.  

"On August 27, I will be able to lay out more specifics as to what that timeline could and should look like, just to give the community an understanding of how long this will take us to do," said Dr. Hutchings.  "I think one thing we should be willing to do is allow for our young people, which I believe are the next generation of leaders for all of us, to have a voice in this matter."

As the board considers the name change,  you can learn more about the public engagement process and see the FAQs and more HERE

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