Starting in the school year 2024–25, W. T. Woodson High School will be officially known as the Carter G. Woodson High School, named in honor of the distinguished Black author, educator and journalist known as the “Father of Black History," Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950).
On Thursday evening, Nov. 9, the Fairfax County School Board unanimously voted to rename W. T. Woodson High School to Carter G. Woodson High School following a matter introduced by school board member Megan McLaughlin, Braddock District. Students and community members raised concerns about W. T. Woodson’s legacy. Woodson opposed desegregation even after the May 17, 1954, unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Brown v. Board of Education case declared the “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional.
In December of 1960, two years before W.T. Woodson High School opened in 1962, the Fairfax County School Board designated the name of the new high school under construction W. T. Woodson High School. "W. T." is the first and middle name initials of Wilbert Tucker Woodson, the school division's superintendent from 1929 to 1961. Born in 1893, Woodson died in 1983.
Currently, the Fairfax County School Board may only reconsider the names of its public schools on a case-by-case basis in response to requests raised as forum topics. Negative aspects of Virginia's past, such as racial prejudice, infringements on human rights, the enduring impact of slavery, opposition to desegregation, and other related issues, might motivate such requests.
McLaughlin said during the Nov. 9 school board meeting that massive resistance to the Supreme Court ruling ran in the Commonwealth from January 1956 to January 1959. That is when the federal courts finally came in, she said, "and told Virginia, enough is enough."
According to McLaughlin, in regards to a possible name change for W.T. Woodson, she spoke with staff, committee advocates, and her fellow board members. “We all believe this was the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” McLaughlin said.
Superintendent W. T. Woodson led the school system during the Great Depression, World War II, the post-World War II enrollment growth, and for seven years after the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. It was a defining moment in U.S. history when the Supreme Court ruled state laws separating children in public schools on the basis of race were unconstitutional. All nine justices voted to overturn the “separate but equal” doctrine that their predecessors had endorsed in the Court’s infamous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision.
However, the Fairfax County School Board followed Virginia’s massive resistance to school desegregation. W.T. Woodson and many Fairfax County School Board members at that time openly opposed segregation, according to a YouTube video by FCPS. Integration did not gather traction until 1960.
“The order to desegregate schools is highly improper and infringes on human rights,” Woodson wrote in 1959. That was five years after the May 17, 1954, landmark civil rights decision of Brown v. Board of Education.
“To force desegregation in schools is most unfair. It takes advantage of the immaturity of children in that it tends to use it to force upon both parents and children social adjustments, to which so many parents strongly object. What part should parents play in choosing their children's associates?" added Woodson.
The Fairfax County School Board on Nov. 11 voted to change the name of W.T. Woodson, after two months of robust public engagement, According to Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid, who spoke during the Nov. 9 meeting and provided up-to-date and current data to officially rename W.T. Woodson High School, the renaming of schools connects to policy 8170.8. "The School Board may consider a change in the name of an existing school or facility to ensure an inclusive, respectful learning environment as outlined in our adopted One Fairfax Policy or when the Board deems it appropriate,” she said.
McLaughlin thanked the Woodson community for its robust and heartfelt participation throughout the renaming process. “Through multiple community meetings, public hearings, and online feedback forms, we have engaged in rich discussion and gained a deeper understanding about our shared history,” she said.
According to McLaughlin, staff discovered in their research writing by W.T. Woodson against desegregation after the Supreme Court ruling. According to McLaughlin, the integration movement in Fairfax County Public Schools did not gain traction; instead, massive resistance to desegregation ran from 1956 to January 1959. Integration did not occur until the federal courts enforced it, McLaughlin said.
Ricardy J. Anderson, Mason District representative to the Fairfax County School Board, said: “I’m hoping moving forward, we can continue the path that we are on starting today where we’re being very intentional, that the very people who were held down are being lifted up in these renames.”
An online search of W.T. Woodson reveals his views on desegregation and infringing on human rights. It is recorded in his 408-word statement dated July 6, 1959, and signed "WTW" in pencil at the bottom. Staff found it in the W.T. Woodson papers held in the Virginia Room at the Fairfax County Public Library.
W.T. Woodson wrote in 1959 that desegregation, at least for some time, would “prove hurtful to both Negroes and whites because (1) widespread public support of the public school is being lost, (2) political support is becoming much more difficult, [and] (3) financial support of those most able to pay is being lost with their opposition to being taxed for public schools.”
Although W.T. Woodson eventually allowed a plan for the gradual integration of the division’s public schools, the federal courts struck down that plan in 1960. Woodson announced his retirement effective June 1961. That is when the school board named the new high school in Fairfax the W.T. Woodson High School.
“But the bottom line is that in seeing the private papers to understand that the Woodson High School namesake, Wilbert Tucker Woodson, personally held the views and beliefs in segregation,” said McLaughlin immediately before the unanimous vote for the name change. “Just calling it Woodson High School really wasn’t going to take away the hurt and bring healing … It’s so important that every single child, every single staff member, every single family who visits that school who is a part of the community and the campus, can now collectively together; everyone be inspired and uplifted by Dr. Carter G. Woodson.”