The proposed name change of Woodrow Wilson High School in northwest DC after acclaimed African-American playwright August Wilson continued to garner mixed reviews.
The proposed name change for Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest DC after acclaimed African-American playwright August Wilson continues to garner mixed reviews.
“The name change from Wilson High School to Wilson High School is somewhat controversial,” DC Chairman Phil Mendelson said as he opened a hearing to consider bills renaming Woodrow Wilson High School and West Elementary School.
“For some, the name change is a little cute, if you will.”
In April, DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee announced a proposal to rename the district’s largest high school in honor of Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner August Wilson, dubbed “the theater poet of the city. ‘Black America’ and who was inducted into the American Theater. Hall of Fame after his death in 2005 at the age of 60.
In 2020, a DC government committee released a report suggesting dozens of names be removed from public buildings, based on several criteria. Supporters of the name change said Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, hindered the progress of black residents in the district, many of whom held federal government jobs.
Ruth Wattenberg, president of the DC State Board of Education and parent of a Wilson student, applauded the bill, which would rename it August Wilson High School from the next school year.
“He is one of the most acclaimed playwrights in the country, among the writers who have written the most beautifully and convincingly on the realities of race in America,” Wattenberg said. “A school named after her, with a theatrical community keen to embrace that heritage, will be a school where race issues are alive and discussed.”
Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie said he preferred to bestow the honor on a local educator.
âFrankly, changing Woodrow Wilson High School to August Wilson High School seems like the easy choice, rather than the more thoughtful choice,â he said.
McDuffie would prefer the school to be renamed to Edna B. Jackson, the first black female teacher to be hired at Wilson, after the Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
âMiss Jackson was a pioneer and catalyst for desegregation and integration in school,â McDuffie said. âIn many ways, her legacy helped transform Wilson into the culturally diverse school that it is today. “
Mendelson said members of the public can provide comment until October 18.
Rename the West Primary School
The president also said the proposed name change from West Elementary, located at 1334 Farragut St. NW, to the late civil rights leader John Lewis, seems certain.
âIt doesn’t sound controversial at all,â Mendelson said. “It certainly honors someone who is a renowned civil rights activist, whose reputation or celebration of him has transcended at least several generations.”
West Elementary School graduate Abeo Venzor, who went on to graduate magna cum laude from Stanford University, supported the proposed change.
âI am indebted to John Lewis for his strong legacy of the struggle for freedom. He not only gave of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired subsequent generations to try to follow his example, âsaid Venzor.
Shanita Burney, of DC Public Schools, said the school system plans to rename 21 schools over the next four or five years.
In 2018, DC renamed Orr Elementary, after determining that former DC Mayor Benjamin Grayson Orr had owned slaves. The school was renamed Lawrence E. Boone Elementary, in honor of the principal who ran it from 1973 to 1996.