Oct 21, 2021 - News

Renaming D.C.'s Woodrow Wilson high school sparks conflict

Illustration of street sign with name erased.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Summer 2020’s racial reckoning inspired a flurry of local campaigns to rename streets and buildings named after Confederate leaders, slave owners, and others who played active roles in oppressing Black people.

Driving the news: The years-long effort to rename D.C.’s largest public high school, Woodrow Wilson, recently led to disagreement between the Bowser administration and the D.C. Council. 

It’s one of the schools identified for renaming by Mayor Muriel Bowser’s District of Columbia Facilities and Commemorative Expressions (DCFACES) group.

This week, the council introduced a measure to rename the school Jackson Reed High, which goes against the Bowser administration’s recommendation to rename it after playwright August Wilson.

  • Those against renaming the school after August Wilson say there are figures with stronger connections to the area, the Washington Post reports.
  • The name Jackson Reed pays tribute to Edna Jackson, the school's first Black teacher, and Vincent Reed, the school’s first Black principal and who went on to head D.C. schools.

Why it matters: Renaming buildings and taking down statues that glorify Confederate leaders can send a message about what a community values and where it places its priorities.

  • Yes, but sending a message isn’t the same as taking action. Local activists are still pushing for larger-scale changes, including police and prison reform.

Zoom out: Local governments and organizations in the D.C. area are renaming all sorts of things to separate themselves from past connections to racial injustice.

  • Alexandria has about 40 streets named after Confederate leaders, the Post reports; one group is working to rename some of them after George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others killed by police.
  • The National Cathedral commissioned artists to create a new stained glass window and accompanying inscription to replace a now-removed display that depicted Robert E. Lee.
  • Loudoun and Fairfax counties are also considering name changes for streets and highways named after Confederates.

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