Note: This letter to the editor is from Larysa Kautz, a candidate in the Democratic primary for the 2019 Lee District Supervisor election.
As Americans, we should never forget our own history. It is our moral responsibility to teach new generations about slavery and the war that divided our nation. We’ve paid for this education with the lives of well over 17 million African American slaves and more than half a million soldiers and it diminishes their legacy if we don’t remind ourselves of why they fought.
However, remembering our history is not the same as honoring it. While Robert E. Lee’s name should live forever in textbooks and our national consciousness, it should never adorn places of honor.
It is well past time to officially change the names of the Robert E. Lee High School and the Robert E. Lee Recreation Center in Fairfax County. Children should not be forced to go to school under the name of a man who fought to keep their ancestors enslaved. No child should read in her textbook about what Lee stood for and then walk through community buildings honoring his name.
Moreover, I would argue that we should change these names entirely, not merely shorten them to “Lee High School” or “Lee Rec Center.” We should choose names that truly represent the diverse community in which we reside — names that elevate and celebrate inclusion — names that demonstrate that we aspire to the ideals outlined in “One Fairfax” — and names that show that we’re willing to actively promote justice, compassion and empathy.
For those of us who are not affected by these and other daily reminders of systemic racism, this issue may seem cosmetic. I challenge you, however, to consider the history of the naming of these institutions.
Lee High School received its current name in 1964 during a period of massive resistance to statewide integration. As the Fairfax County NAACP explained in their agenda for change this year, “The naming of the high school stands as a monument to the county’s efforts to resist integration. For far too long, lack of political will and courage has allowed elected officials, the school system, and others to either ignore or deny the history of this school. With the changing of JEB Stuart, it is time for Robert E. Lee to go.”
More than two years ago, a petition with over 2,200 supporters was circulated to Fairfax County to change the name of Robert E. Lee High School. Yet nothing has happened. This is a call once again to look at ourselves and our communities, and push for change.
I commend Lee District school board representative Tammy Kaufax for her recent request to Superintendent Scott Brabrand to supply information on school names related to Confederate soldiers or with ties to the Confederate cause. I hope this is done quickly and leads to concrete action.
I challenge the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, the Fairfax County School Board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to take this on — at their very next meetings — and pass resolutions to change the names of these institutions and implement the changes by 2020.