Statement made by Sue Mosher at Arlington County School Board meeting, 17 Aug 2017:
Chair Kanninen, board members, Dr. Murphy, and fellow citizens:
Thank you for this opportunity to urge you to recognize that now is the time to rename Washington-Lee High School to undo the honor given to Robert E. Lee.
Although I am not a native Virginian, I am a daughter of the South. I grew up in suburban Atlanta, attended William & Mary, and have been an Arlington resident since 1989. Two of my great-grandfathers on my mother's side held enslaved people in Texas and Tennessee. Another great-grandfather, on my father's side, was wounded during the siege of Petersburg as a soldier with the 43rd Alabama Infantry.
So, I know the history of the cause he fought for, but I hold no allegiance to it. It was a lost cause from the beginning because it denied the fundamental claim of every person to be recognized as a full human being, with liberty. No society should honor with school and street names those who threatened that most cherished value, as Robert E. Lee did when he broke his U.S. Army oath in order to serve the Confederacy.
We Arlingtonians have a duty here because we know our history, not because we want to erase it:
- because Robert E. Lee made his home here, in the Custis-Lee mansion
- because Arlington County was home for 20 years to the American Nazi Party
- but also because Gloria Thompson, Ronald Deskins, Lance Newman, and Michael Jones walked into Stratford Junior High on February 2, 1959, to begin the process of desegregating Virginia public schools
Because of this history, we have a duty to be in the vanguard of communities across this great nation who are rethinking and withdrawing past honors from Confederate leaders, now that we know -- as we always should have known -- that they are held as powerful symbols by white supremacists, nazis, and fascists, so potent that those purveyors of hatred will kill to protect them.
Therefore, I applaud the commitment that Dr. Kanninen described at the beginning of tonight's meeting, to establish clear naming criteria in a public process that I hope will result in the choice of great, inspiring names for new schools and -- more urgently -- a new name for the high school next door.