FALLS CHURCH, Va. - The debate over Confederate monuments and symbols has sparked national discussion. It has led to the recent removal of several Confederate statues in New Orleans. Now, there is talk of renaming a Northern Virginia high school named after a Confederate general.
A community meeting was held Thursday evening at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church on this topic. The decision to rename the school has begun and there was plenty of discussion from both sides of this contentious debate. As the sun set, several police cruisers lined the street outside the high school just in case the meeting got out of hand.
“What the name stands for isn't the values that this school protects, holds and displays,” said student Abian Hailu.
J.E.B. Stuart was a U.S. Army officer who later became a major general for the Confederacy during the Civil War. A sticking point at the meeting centered on if Stuart owned slaves.
“There was an economy here that was based on slavery and we can all condemn that,” said retired history teacher Joe Pisciotta. “But as far as J.E.B. Stuart, he was not an owner of slaves. He didn't support slavery. He supported the state of Virginia."
However, Andre Billeaudeaux, a parent of a former student at the high school said Stuart "inherited one slave when his father died and the other one was the property of his wife, and when they went from Virginia to Kansas, they released their slaves."
Billeaudeaux said he pulled his son out of the school and described how the Raiders family has changed since the name change debate hit campus. He anticipates it being worse if the push continues.
“What will happen is if this thing goes down as constructed, the neighborhoods and the people here will be polarized,” he said.
“It's time to move on, move past it, get forward, stop honoring traders and people who fought to keep people enslaved,” said Lily Beres, a member of the group Students for Change.
Each attendee at the meeting received a reflection paper to write their thoughts. We are told they will be passed along to the superintendent to help determine if the school's name should change. From there, this issue could go before the school board.