The Fairfax County School Board voted to rename its Robert E. Lee High School after late Rep. John Lewis.
The vote occurred during a business meeting on July 23. Lewis’ name will be installed during the 2020-2021 school year.
“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,” Anderson added. “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, who proposed the name change, highlighted Lee’s problematic legacy. Lee was a confederate general and slaveholder who was cruel to the people he owned and resisted the abolitionist movement, according to historical records.
“The name Robert E. Lee is forever connected to the Confederacy, and 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.”
Lewis, a civil rights icon and 17-term congressman, died on July 17 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Since his death, there have been countless tributes to him and his life’s work. On Monday, Fisk University announced its social justice institute would be named after Lewis, who graduated from the Nashville HBCU in 1967.
“Congressman John R. Lewis embodied the very best of humanity – his kindness, perseverance and unwavering commitment to fighting for those in need set an example for all the young people who are looking to create a better world,” Fisk president Kevin D. Rome said in a press release.
Lewis’ body is currently lying in state at the U.S. Capitol and will be moved to the Georgia State Capitol for a ceremony on Wednesday, reported NPR. On Sunday, July 26, a horse-drawn carriage carried his casket across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, more than 50 years after Lewis and other protesters were assaulted by police during Bloody Sunday. A funeral service is scheduled for Thursday, July 30 at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.