John Lewis Honored In Renaming Of Virginia High School
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Congressman John Lewis' life and legacy is being honored throughout the country, so now we're going to go to Springfield, Va., hundreds of miles north of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where a high school now bears the civil rights leader's name. Just this week, Robert E. Lee High School became John R. Lewis High School.
LIZ MCGHAN: I knew there was every intention for the name to be changed.
MARTIN: That's Liz McGhan, president of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association. She's one of the people involved in removing the Confederate general's name from the school.
MCGHAN: I have five kids that went through the school, and my youngest is a rising senior, so this is my 14th year at the high school (laughter) as a parent.
MARTIN: Liz McGhan says she and members of the Fairfax County School Board were preparing for something of a contentious battle over changing the name. They had already seen it firsthand when the school board voted to remove the name of Jeb Stuart, another Confederate general, from a nearby high school in 2018. That happened after two years of heated debates.
MCGHAN: I think we all were kind of fearful that that would happen with us as well.
MARTIN: But McGhan says when the process of renaming began in March, there was one in-person meeting. Then the pandemic came. The board had more urgent matters. School went online. Spring sports were canceled.
MCGHAN: I thought this was going to be put off until next year. But I think with the political climate and everything that changed in the last month of June, the school board decided we needed to do it now.
MARTIN: So then the only question was, what should the new name be?
MCGHAN: Amongst our peers, our parents, our students, I think the thought was more, OK, what do we want it changed to? Barack Obama had come up, and Mildred Loving was brought up. But with John Lewis, you know, he was always mentioned. And then, of course, with his passing in the last week, it just - everybody really zeroed in on it.
MARTIN: On Thursday, a unanimous school board vote made it official. The Virginia high school once named after the commander of the Confederate States Army now carries the name of a man who spent his life fighting against the ideals of the Confederacy.
MCGHAN: All of my kids - you know, you can get your diploma changed (laughter) if you want. My youngest will be from John R. Lewis High School, and so we may change them all so we're all the same.
MARTIN: That was Liz McGhan. She is president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at the newly renamed John R. Lewis High School in Fairfax County, Va.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEW WEST GUITAR GROUP'S "MISSION CREEK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.