Letter to the Editor: Renaming T.C. Williams High School

Photo by Mike Salmon/The Zebra Press

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Earlier today the Zebra Press received a letter penned by Nelson E. Greene, Jr., owner of Greene Funeral Home, Inc. The letter is addressed to Alexandria School Board Chair Cindy M. Anderson, school board members, and City Council. It concerns the renaming of T.C. Williams High School. The full text follows:

August 10, 2020

The Honorable Cindy M. Anderson, Chairperson

Members of the Alexandria City Public School Board

Alexandria City Council Members

Dear Elected Officials and ACPS Board Members,

Let me add my 65 cents.  I have been a citizen of Alexandria, Virginia for 65 years. I attended Lyles-Crouch Elementary School in the seventh grade and then went on to Parker-Gray High School. I have been active in this city for all of my years here, even while on active duty with the U.S. Army and College before that.

Here is my 65 cents about the T.C. Williams name change. In the seventh grade my father, The Honorable Nelson E. Greene, Sr.,  was the President of the Lyles-Crouch PTA. Late in the first semester it was realized that Lyles-Crouch did not have the supplies we needed as students. In those days the school provided, pencils, paper, chalk, erasers. We were out of everything. Our teachers, parents and even the Principal were bringing supplies that they paid for so we could do our work.  My father and the Vice-President, Mrs. Helen Miller, asked to meet with the Superintendent, T.C.Williams. He refused, but after some diligence on their part, he finally agreed. Upon arriving at the School Board office, they were made to stand in the hall, not invited into the office, until he decided to meet with them, even though they had an appointment. When they were finally shown into his office, he did not offer them a seat. He proceeded to let them know that they were disturbing his day and hurry and get it over for whatever reason they came. They proceeded to inform him of the need for supplies for Lyles-Crouch and let him know that it would only get worse, because this was the first semester and the second semester was still coming. After some talk to (not with) them, in which he stated, he did not understand why the “N”s had used the supplies up that had been given, he finally agreed to provide some help. He got on the intercom and told his Secretary to go get the ”N”s some supplies. She came in a few minutes later, with one box (ten sticks) of chalk, one ream of the three lined paper used to teach writing, two blackboard erasers and a pack of #2 pencils. This for a school of almost 300 children.  He then dismissed them because he had better things to do.

Several years later, still under his watch, the population at Lyles-Crouch exceeded the capacity of the building. So, several classes were sent to the old Alexandria Academy on Wolfe Street. This was a school building that dated back to just after colonial days. The ceilings were so low, that some of the teachers had to bend over to move around the classroom. The classrooms were small and crowded such that some students had to share desks. During the winter everybody had to keep their coats and gloves on in order to survive. The one toilet bathrooms were in no way adequate for the needs of the students, so several times a day the students were walked three blocks to the Main building to use the bathrooms, rain or shine, snow or sleet, our children had to tramp through the streets to go to the bathroom.  In the spring and early summer (schools were usually in session until late June), all windows were kept open and some teachers brought electric fans to school, but could not always use them because the electrical system could not support the load. Many times the teacher took the children outside into the yard to teach because they could not teach in such an environment.

At the same time, just North of this school there was a white school that had empty classrooms, but would not allow our students to utilize them. I know about this because my brother was one of those students sentenced to the Academy.

Now lets come forward into the 80’s. I was a member of the Alexandria City Public School Board. I arrived at a school board meeting to find out that some group was there to make a presentation to TC’s son in his father’s honor. I was so incensed that I left my seat on the School Board and went to the public mike and asked to speak to the public. I proceeded to tell people about this racist that they were going to honor. I then went back to my seat and made a motion that it not be allowed to occur. During discussion, we were informed that the group that was there had withdrawn their request to make the presentation. Later during the break I shared the water fountain with a white man, who did not speak when I spoke to him. I later found out it was the son. SO be it. But that was not the end of it.  Before I could get back home after the meeting, we had several calls, threatening to kill me, my family and burn down my home and our business. So I called the police and they only told me they could do nothing unless the threats were carried out. SO no help there. I then proceeded to load a 12 gauge shotgun and patrol  our property. Taking  care to stay on my property, I did this for several hours, several days . No police even rode by.

I, then for my protection, began to exercise my right to arm myself and so went about my business as was my right. The threats continued for several months.

It is time this name be removed from our high school. It was shame that our Black and other minority children have to go to school with this racist name on it. Now don’t confuse the school with the name. We all know that this school is one of the top public high schools in the nation, served by a staff dedicated to the students.  Make no mistake about the school.

We now have placed on the community agenda, a proposal to change the name to Judge Dawkins.  I cannot think of any name more appropriate. An Alexandria Native, product of this school system, highly educated and has served as an important part of the legal system of this community. We are always (Black, white, and others) looking for models to follow by our young people.  Here is a model to be followed, and imitated.

So let’s do the right thing and change the name to Judge Nolan Dawkins and really let him know what we think about him and his service, his life and have a model for all.

Nelson E. Greene Jr

Member of ACPS Board, 1982-1992

Member and Past President of the Departmental Progressive Club

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I attended TCW 69-73 and believe the name of the school should be changed. As so poignantly demonstrated in Mr. Greene’s letter, Mr. Williams does not deserve the honor bestowed on him. ACPS, please right this wrong.

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