To the Editor:
This summer, we have seen a groundswell movement to disrupt the course of our history of racism in America. Nowhere has this been more poignant than in southern states where cries of "heritage not hate" have bannered long-protected symbols of white supremacy. As white Virginians, we believe that white supremacy may be our history, and for many, indeed our heritage, but it does not have to be our legacy.
During her work as a civil rights activist, white southerner Anne Braden spoke of "the Other America." She said, "An older, African American leader that I respected highly told me I had to make a choice: be a part of the world of the lynchers or join the Other America — of people from the very beginning of this country who opposed injustice, and especially opposed racism and slavery. [He told me] I could be a part of that — that it existed today and offered me a home to live in. I felt like, well, that’s what I wanna be a part of."
We know that the homages to confederate leaders and segregationists we see today are not old history. Many of these symbols were installed at a time when progress was beginning to take root: the integration of schools, advances in voting rights, among others. These embittered icons are not part of our storied past, they were retaliatory warning shots fired at those working to transform their communities into places of liberty and inclusion.
Recently, leaders in our local community have called for us to take down these symbols in our midst, perhaps most notably, changing the names of three Fairfax schools: J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee, and Woodson high schools. It is offensive to human dignity that institutions we trust to embrace and educate our children would still bear such visible political shrapnel. Public education is at the core of our democracy: an educated electorate is an empowered people. Schools should be places where all children are welcomed, where all our children can glimpse a vision of the future, rather than being saddled by the past failures of generations that came before them.
We stand with the NAACP, parents, educators, and concerned members of our community who want to see these schools renamed. We want our legacy to transcend the heritage of hate. It is our fervent hope that we can build upon the honorable history of the Other Virginia, the Other Fairfax County, and resist the dominance of white supremacy to make our schools and communities safe and full of opportunity for all who live here.
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Northern Virginia