Following the Fairfax County School Board vote the other night to change the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School to something less, uh, Confederate, the question now arises: what should the new name be? I’ve heard one good idea so far (although there’s no specific Fairfax County connection I’m aware of) – Alice Jackson Stuart.
Alice Jackson Stuart was the first female African American to apply for graduate school studies at the University of Virginia. She was denied on the basis of “good and sufficient reasons” and later went on to earn her Master of Arts at Columbia University in 1937.
Several months after Alice Jackson got rejected from UVa, the Virginia State Board of Education created a graduate school for African Americans at Virginia State University in Petersburg in 1935. The following year, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Dovell Act (House Bill 470). This paid qualified black applicants’ tuition and travel expenses to attend schools outside the state. In the 1980s, University of Virginia and African American students at the school honored her. Shortly after her death in 2001, the Virginia Senate approved Joint Resolution No. 40 to honor Jackson.
Though Jackson’s actions were important in the long process of desegregation at UVa, the first African American student was not accepted at the graduate level until Gregory Swanson in 1950. Afterwards, African American students were slowly accepted at the graduate and undergraduate level.
In 2012 Jackson was posthumously honored as one of the Library of Virginia’s “Virginia Women in History” for her life’s work.
So, despite the lack of a specific Fairfax County connection, I like the idea of going with “Alice Jackson Stuart High School” for a few reasons: 1) there’s a strong Virginia connection; 2) she has a great, inspirational story; 3) it’s very fitting that the school’s name be changed to a successful, admirable African-American woman from a person who fought to keep blacks in a system of slavery for the indefinite future. As an added bonus, Alice Jackson Stuart shares the same last name as J.E.B. Stuart, so the high school could still be referred to as “Stuart High School,” possibly making the transition a bit easier for some people? This is definitely an idea that should be considered.
Now, here’s my brilliant (or not) thought: how about the idea of changing the name to Barack Obama High School? No, Obama isn’t from Fairfax County, but he did speak there in October 2012…and in November 2012…and in June 2008…and in July 2008…and in January 2009…and in September 2010…etc. Obama also paid a great deal of attention to Virginia, including holding his final, emotional rally of the amazing, historic 2008 campaign in Manassas. And, of course, Obama was the first Democratic candidate for President to carry Virginia since LBJ in 1964. Let alone the first African-American candidate for President to carry Virginia since…well, ever. And then to carry it again in his successful bid for reelection.
I’d further argue that Barack Obama – and his entire family, of course – represents a superb role model for young people of all backgrounds. A man of tremendous learning and respect for knowledge, science, the arts, humanities, etc. A teacher himself. A historic figure who did so much to improve the lives of people from all walks of life in this country. A class act all the way around, in stark contrast to the abomination currently besmirching the White House. A man who absolutely loves kids and is a “natural” with them. Very popular (a 63% favorable rating as of June 2017 — 95% among Democrats, 65% among independents), to boot.
As an added bonus, I checked with “Professor Google,” and couldn’t find any other high schools named after Barack Obama. Which means that if Fairfax County changes the name of “J.E.B. Stuart High School” to “Barack Obama High School,” it could very well be a first.
Anyway, it’s just an idea I wanted to throw out there. If you have other suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments section. But be clear; the name WILL be changing, the only question being to what exactly. Mark me down as one vote for “Barack Obama High School.”