WASHINGTON, DC — Ten D.C. State Board of Education representatives sent a letter Wednesday to D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee urging him to move quickly in renaming Woodrow Wilson High School.
“This request has heightened urgency for us given our country’s and city’s broad examination of race and racism — and their connection to our schools,” the letter said. “Whatever one might think of Wilson’s efforts in international affairs on other matters, as president, his role in Washington DC was ugly and civically corrosive — he worked systematically to demote and segregate DC’s African-American civil servants, who previously build a thriving middle-class community. It is time to change the name.”
Backers of the name change have already collected nearly 15,000 signatures on a petition started by The DC History and Justice Collective.
While the Collective’s petition, which it launched in 2015, acknowledges President Wilson’s position as a progressive and internationalist statesman, it also criticizes the implementation of Jim Crow policies in D.C. that occurred during his administration.
“President Wilson led an administration that fired and demoted black workers who had found a road to advancement in the federal civil service,” according to the Collective’s website. “These racist policies decimated the black middle class in Washington in the early 20th century and fired up the segregation in housing and education that has kept many in the black community separate and unequal to this day.”
The Collective’s aim is to give the Ward 3 high school a name that better represents the values of the community.
“Renaming the school is not a question of rewriting history or making just symbolic, superficial change,” according to the Collective’s website. “We are convinced that changing the name of the school will open the way to a deep conversation about and acknowledgement of the racist policies that have shaped our city and our nation.”
In their letter, the SBOE representatives quoted a June 1 communication from Ferebee, encouraging members of the DCPS community to have courageous conversations about race within their families.
“Our schools stand proud in our neighborhoods, welcoming all who walk through the doors to be their true selves and allow students to be extraordinary,” Ferebee said, in the letter. “Our schools are also a refuge, a place where students and families can find the support they need for their wellbeing.”
According to the SBOE letter, the effort to rename Wilson High School also has the support of currents students, alumni, residents, and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh.
“No one is entitled to have a building named after him or her,” Cheh said, in a February 2019 statement. “It should be an honor. And if there are significant dishonorable aspects in a person’s past, that person is not entitled to be so honored. President Wilson’s segregationist legacy and abhorrent attitude towards African Americans are undeniable. If the Wilson High School community is interested in changing the name of the school, then I support them.”
The 1o signatories to the SBOE letter are: Ruth Wattenberg (president), Markus Batchelor (vice president), Emily Gasoi (Ward 1), Jack Jacobson (Ward 2), Frazier O’Leary (Ward 4), Zachary Parker (Ward 5), Jessica Sutter (Ward 6), Karen Williams (Ward 7), Dayja Burton (student representative), and Alex O’Sullivan (student representative).
10 Members of @DCSBOE have penned a letter to @dcpublicschools @DCPSChancellor to change the name of @Wilsonhsdcps. “We urge you to identify a process through which other school names may be reconsidered as well.” Sign petition here: https://t.co/eEWK8z50J1 #RenameWilsonHS pic.twitter.com/9NSHaXmVNy
— DC State Board of Ed (@DCSBOE) June 24, 2020