(CBS) — A high school named for Confederate general and slave owner Robert E. Lee will be renamed to honor civil rights icon and former congressman John Lewis. The school’s new name will go into effect for the upcoming school year, the Fairfax County School Board announced on Thursday.
The board has been working on changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School since the end of June. Over the past month, they have received public comments from students, staff and the community on possible names for the school.
“It was important for us to be mindful of these comments and to select a name that reflected the diversity and multiculturalism that currently exists at the school and in our community,” school board chair Ricardy Anderson said in a press release. “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. We will also honor his life’s work by continuing to promote equity, justice, tolerance and service in the work that we do.”
Board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax said in a statement that Lee’s name “is forever connected to the Confederacy.”
“Confederate values are ones that do not align with our community,” Kaufax said. “Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and members of the community feel safe and supported. 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.”
The vote to change the name to John R. Lewis High School was unanimous, CBS affiliate WTVR reports, and many board members cheered when the vote was announced.
Sean Perryman, president of Fairfax County NAACP, posted on Facebook that when he brought up the issue of the school’s name last year, he “was explicitly told we would never get Lee out of this community.”
“We did it,” Perryman wrote. “I began an advocacy campaign that many doubted. But now, in 2020, Fairfax County NAACP can count ridding the community of that racist name and honoring one of the bravest Americans in history as one of our many victories. …Never underestimate the power of organizing.”
During the June hearing on whether to rename the school, rising high school senior Kimberly Boateng told WTVR that “The name is, in all honesty, an embarrassment to the many students that attend Lee High School.”
“It’s an 80% minority population that goes to that school every day,” Boateng said. “The choice is obvious to me.”
Former Georgia Representative John Lewis died on July 17 at 80 years old. The civil rights icon who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and led the march to Selma that resulted in Bloody Sunday had been battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer since December.