The Identity Project — Lesson 1: What’s In a Name?

Photo by Mike Salmon/The Zebra Press

By ACPS

ALEXANDRIA, VA – in less than a month’s time on Nov. 23, following extensive community discussion, the School Board will vote on the issue.

T.C. Williams history teacher Ra’ Alim Shabazz introduced Thomas Chambliss Williams to his students this week. He wants to make sure they have a clear grasp of who the man their school is named after was.

In October 2020, his Global Majority Studies elective group of 10th, 11th and 12th graders learned the story of Blois Hundley. The mother of eight and Lyles-Crouch cafeteria worker joined a federal civil rights lawsuit in 1958 to force Alexandria schools to let her children attend a whites-only school. T.C. Williams fired her, describing her actions as a “slap in the face.”

“I see Blois Hundley as the Rosa Parks of Alexandria,” said Shabazz. “But here is a woman whose story has really been overlooked whereas T.C. Williams not only had a school named after him but his name has been immortalized in a movie. As long as we continue to mythologize history, we cannot address the inequities of the past.”

He added, “I hope the students take away from the lesson that history informs the present and these young people have the ability to change the future. I want them to understand that when they encounter injustice they can deal with. Even if it’s inconvenient to do so, you do what is right.”

Sarah Whelan from the ACPS Office of Instructional Support helped design five different age-appropriate lessons specifically for The Identity Project for both elementary and high school students. This series of lessons aims to provide the accurate information that would allow our students to join the conversation about the names of our schools, no matter their age or grade, and allow them to have informed discussions on the topic.

For Maury fourth graders studying Virginia History, this means learning about the oceanographer’s accomplishments, his role in the Confederate Army and an introduction to the U.S. Civil War. In addition, over the course of the coming weeks, this age group will hear about life in Alexandria 1929, the year when the school was named. This was a time in history when segregation was alive and well and when confederate values, that no longer reflect who we are today, were still celebrated. Students will be encouraged to discuss what they value about their school and what they believe it represents today.

“ACPS is critically aware that there is a pressing need in our schools, our community and our nation to find ways to talk about race constructively and respectfully,” said Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.

He added, “One of the ways that we can move forward is by acknowledging our own history, while refusing to allow that history to define who we currently are as a school division in the present.”

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