A Virginia high school named after Confederate war general Robert E. Lee is to be renamed to honor the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.
The Fairfax County School Board voted in favor of the change to go into effect for the 2020-21 school year, according to an announcement Thursday. Board members in the suburban Washington D.C., district voted June 23 to change the school’s name but had been deliberating over a new name for the last few weeks.
Board chair Ricardy Anderson said in a statement that the district wanted to choose a name that reflected the school’s multiculturalism after concerns were raised by students, staff and the community over the old name.
“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,” Anderson said. “We will also honor his life’s work by continuing to promote equity, justice, tolerance and service in the work that we do.”
Lewis died Friday at the age of 80 following a monthslong battle with cancer. The longtime Georgia congressman announced in late December that he was undergoing treatment for stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
The civil rights legend was the last surviving speaker from 1963's March on Washington, but Lewis was arguably best known for helping to lead a group of about 600 across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on March 7, 1965. Lewis suffered a fractured skull after being beaten by Alabama state troopers on what has since been known as “Bloody Sunday.”
The decision comes amid reignited conversations about longstanding racial inequalities in the country and weeks of protests and marches to disrupt systemic racism in institutions that have marginalized Black Americans.
Activists and politicians have called to take down monuments and dedications to Confederate generals around the country.
One of the board members who proposed the name change, Tamara Derenak Kaufax, said in the release Thursday that Confederate values “do not align with our community.”
“Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and members of the community feel safe and supported,” Kaufax said. “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.”