Everybody knows who Robert E. Lee was but John Mosby and Sidney G. Lanier may be a bit more obscure. And they may all soon be even more so. The Fairfax County school board is said to be considering a plan that would scrub Confederate names from the county’s schools.
All told, seven schools are said to be on the clean-up list, although Lanier may be saved by a technicality since it is a Fairfax City school, according to a WDVM report, and therefore beyond the reach of the county school board. Fairfax City also operates its own elementary schools and Fairfax High School, “Home of the Rebels.” The renaming issue may come up for discussion at the board’s meeting Monday (July 15).
Slave-owning Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart has already been consigned to the scrap bin of history. In 2017, the Falls Church high school named for him became Justice High School, a name intended to honor three individuals for their roles in championing equal rights for all: Barbara Rose Johns, Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Col. Louis G. Mendez, Jr.
Perhaps the biggest impact would come from changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield. With nearly 1,700 students, Lee opened in 1958, back when Virginia was still resisting school integration. There was immediate opposition to the name but initial attempts to change it failed and the issue finally faded.
General Lee, of course, was the Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, charged with protecting the region from the invading federal forces. It is perhaps ironic then, that the school now serves a majority-minority student body, with about 43% Hispanic, 25% Asian, 16% White, 12% Black and 3% other, according to FCPS.
Not far away is Mosby Woods Elementary, also serving a diverse population, with students from 40 countries who speak 28 different languages.
“Our multiculturalism is valued as a source of strength. Students appreciate diverse cultures and celebrate American ideals,” Mosby Woods says in its website profile. This might have sounded a bit off to John Singleton Mosby, the “Gray Ghost”, a Confederate cavalry battalion commander who played a key role in the first Battle of Bull Run.
And then there was Sidney G. Lanier. Like the others whose names now face erasure, he was a Civil War military figure, serving on a blockade-running ship, a deployment that led to his imprisonment. Like the others for whom Fairfax middle schools — Rachel Carson, Ben Franklin, Robert Frost, Ellen Glasgow, et al — are named, he was also a poet. And just to round out his career, he was a lawyer and church organist.
Virginia holds a unique place in history, as the region where the Civil War was largely conceived, planned and bitterly fought but that may not be enough to protect those who led the Confederate forces from being finally chiseled into oblivion.