Alexandria, VA – Thomas Chambliss Williams was the City of Alexandria’s school superintendent from the mid 1930s to the mid ’60s. During his tenure, U.S. history books hit many side notes, including three wars, cultural changes, and a modernization that no period has witnessed since.
When T.C. Williams High School initially opened its doors in 1965, it seemed like a good time to name one of the three city high schools after Williams. But with a closer examination of his segregationist ideas, the city is now looking to change the name. For example, Williams argued that black and white students learned differently and should remain in separate schools, a recent city press release indicated.
The current superintendent, Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., wrote recently that “Alexandria City Public Schools views our diversity as a strength.”
“Many feel [the current high school’s name] is not representative of its diverse student body,” the author of a recent report said. In the July issue of the ACPS Express, a school newsletter, it noted that T.C. Williams High School has students from 120 different countries, with 121 different languages spoken, a part of the school that they view as a strength.
“Ensuring racial equity is at the heart of the school division’s Strategic Plan: Equity for All 2025. While we still have work to do inside our schools, the school’s name does not align with who we are as a community,” the story said.
Over the past few years, the school’s name has been an issue at the mayor’s office when concerned constituents have expressed dismay regarding the man for whom the city’s only high school is named, Mayor Justin Wilson. said. “They have repeatedly noted the disconnect there.”
In the end, renaming T.C. Williams is a school board decision; however Mayor Wilson is confident the school board will go through the proper channels, including public input. “We’ll certainly encourage folks to take part in that,” he said.
The Naming Process
Renaming the school is not something that will happen overnight. The Alexandria City School Board and Hutchings will discuss the scope and process required in a work session on August 27. A public engagement process will begin in the fall of 2020 and the superintendent will present a report with recommendations to the School Board in the spring of 2021.
The Alexandria City Public School system will go through “a robust community engagement process,” this fall, ACPS said, but have not created a list of possible names yet.
Recently, former Mayor Kerry Donley suggested to the Alexandria School Board the possibility of renaming the high school for newly retired Judge Nolan Dawkins.
There is also a Facebook page called, “Rename T.C. Williams High School: Support for Nolan B. Dawkins” High School. And there are others who are proposing no name be attached to the school. For example, city leader and Alexandria Living Legend, McArthur Meyers suggested the name, “Freedom,” and many think it should be called simply, “Alexandria High School.”
In 2000, the Disney movie, “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington was released, and it highlighted Alexandria’s struggle to desegregate its schools through a story about the high school’s football team.
Some of the school’s facilities were named after past T.C. Williams sports figures, including a 1971 player that won the state championship. Real-life athletes Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell are portrayed in the film by Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris, respectively.
In the new T.C. Williams High School building, which opened in 2008, the gym is named for Bertier. The basketball court is named in honor of Earl Lloyd, who attended Parker-Gray High School, becoming the first Black man to play in the NBA. The football stadium is named Parker-Gray Stadium in deference to the former pre-segregation high school.