Robert E. Lee High School in Virginia Renamed to Honor John Lewis

A school in Fairfax County, Virginia, will remove Robert E. Lee from its name and change it to honor the life and legacy of the late Rep. John Lewis.

The Fairfax County School Board voted on Thursday to make the name change official.

“Rep. Lewis was a champion of the Civil Rights movement, and our Board strongly believes this is an appropriate tribute to an individual who is a true American hero,” School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson said in a statement. “We will also honor his life’s work by continuing to promote equity, justice, tolerance and service in the work that we do.”

The initial decision to remove the Confederate general’s name from the school was made in June. Barack Obama, Mildred Loving and Cesar Chavez were among the other names considered.

The decision to rename the school was made in order to address concerns about honoring a leader of the slaveholding society.

“The name Robert E. Lee is forever connected to the Confederacy, and Confederate values are ones that do not align with our community,” Board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax, one of two members who proposed the name change, said after the vote. “Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and members of the community feel safe and supported. I believe that John Lewis’ extraordinary life and advocacy for racial justice will serve as an inspiration to our students and community for generations to come.”

Lewis died on July 17 at the age 80 of pancreatic cancer. He had served in Congress since 1987. Prior to that, Lewis was a civil rights activist who organized for voting rights for people of color.

Lewis helped organize a 1965 march in Selma, Alabama, to bring attention to the denial of voting rights for Black residents. Known as “Bloody Sunday,” state troopers attacked the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and Lewis suffered a fractured skull after one trooper beat him with a baton.

Lewis was also a participant at the 1963 March on Washington, and prior was the last surviving individual to have spoken at that event.

Days after Lewis’s death, Democratic leaders in Congress urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to honor the late statesman by restoring the Voting Rights Act, with some calling on the bill to be renamed in his honor as well.