Virginia’s largest school system is renaming the Robert E. Lee High School after the Hon. Congressman John Lewis, who died July 17 after decades of fighting for freedom.
The Fairfax County School Board in Springfield, Virginia, voted Thursday to officially rename the school after the iconic civil rights leader. The new name, John R. Lewis High School, goes into effect in the fall.
“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,” said School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson 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.”
Lee District School Board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax proposed a resolution to remove the Confederate general’s name from the school back in February, reports USA Today.
“The name Robert E. Lee is forever connected to the Confederacy, and Confederate values are ones that do not align with our community,” she said in the news release. “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.”
Born the son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis served in Congress for more than three decades, starting in 1986, where he championed legislation to combat segregation, discrimination, and injustice. His fight for racial justice began in Georgia in the 1960s. At 23, Lewis was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He was also the last living speaker from the monumental event. Lewis is also noted for leading the march in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, which led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Lewis represented Georgia and remained committed to both civil service and equality until the end of his life. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor, in 2011.
The longtime lawmaker was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December. He died at the age of 80. Funeral services for Lewis are set for July 30 at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.