A school board has unanimously voted to change the name of the Virginia high school that inspired the popular movie “Remember the Titans” due to the namesake being a segregationist.
The Alexandria City Public Schools board voted 9-0 on Tuesday to change the names of T.C. Williams High School and also Matthew Maury Elementary School.
At issue was the fact that the school’s namesake, former long-serving ACPS superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, refused to racially integrate schools back in the 1950s.
Maury had its name changed because its namesake, Matthew Maury, while labeled the “father of modern oceanography,” also served in the Confederate Navy during the America Civil War.
Released in 2000, “Remember the Titans” centered on an African American football coach played by Denzel Washington coming to a newly integrated T.C. Williams High School to help lead its team to an undefeated season.
The film grossed approximately $136 million worldwide, receiving honors that included Washington winning a BET award for Best Actor and the film winning the NAACP Image award for Outstanding Motion Picture.
Although the debate over the Williams name has existed for many years, the latest push to rename the high school came in response to nationwide protests over historical monuments and names.
Alexandria resident Marc Solomon was among the supporters for changing the name, circulating a petition calling for the removal of the T.C. Williams appellation.
“You can ‘Remember the Titans’ without honoring TC Williams,” Solomon told local media outlet WUSA back in June. “I haven’t found one person who can say one nice thing about T.C. Williams the man.”
“I have never met one person who can say one positive thing about him, which is weird. I mean folks find reasons to keep names of other places and I can’t find one.”
In response to the renewed calls for a name change, ACPS created “The Identity Project,” which was geared toward community dialogue on the names.
“Many ACPS schools were named during a time in our city and in our country when vastly different attitudes and beliefs guided our decisions. In 2020, a spotlight has shone on the many inequities in today’s society and a new determination to right the wrongs of history has swept the nation,” explained the Project.
“To that end, the School Board answered a call to look again at the morality of naming our city’s only high school after Thomas Chambliss Williams, a staunch segregationist whose views could not have been more inconsistent with the vibrant, diverse and inclusive place we know today.”
A survey conducted by the Project with more than 3,000 people found that 75% of respondents wanted the Williams name changed while 72% wanted the Maury name changed.
Critics of the change, including T.C. alumnus Greg Paspatis, argued that the name change would harm the message of interracial harmony that the school became famous for because of the film.
“It’s a very famous school. It’s one of the most famous schools in the country because of that movie,” said Paspatis to The Washington Post back in July. “If you change the name, there will be confusion, and people will forget what happened there.”