We must rename our school after Reno City to ensure equality

Sophia Ibrahim

Let’s review, shall we?

Our school’s namesake was the 28th President of the United States. Woodrow Wilson’s term lasted from 1913 to 1921, during which he supported and passed many bills enforcing segregation. One instance of his racist beliefs on display was when he held a private White House screening of D.W. Griffith’s film Birth of a Nation, which vilified African-Americans and venerated the Ku Klux Klan.

This brief synopsis of the downfalls of the Wilson administration only scratches the surface of why our school should be renamed. With DCPS already having announced the plan to move forward on the name change process during a September 15th conference, this article will instead serve the purpose of proving why ensuring equality for all Wilson students means the school must be renamed after Reno City.

Reno City, located just north of Tenleytown, became an enclave for freed and escaped slaves during and following the Civil War. It was largely agricultural until divided by landowners into small lots, capitalizing on the skill sets that newly-freed African-Americans had harnessed during their times enslaved. Unsurprisingly, a large amount of infrastructure developed during the heyday of Reno City, including schools for white and Black children; namely Jesse Reno for Black children (1903), and Janney (1925), Deal (1931) and Wilson (1935) for their white counterparts. The Black residents had also built three churches and a masonic lodge. 

As more white families grew attracted to the neighboring Tenleytown in the 1950’s, federal planners focused on destroying the tangible evidence of Black success from Reno City. Here they saw schools, parks, and reservoirs being built in Reno’s place, eerily foreseeing a future where gentrification plagues virtually all minority-majority neighborhoods in D.C. 

A school with a dwindling population of Black students must do everything it can to keep its Black students from dropping out. The place where you spend the most time besides your own home should not be a place named after a person who actively advocated against equality for people that look like you. Naming our school after Reno City will show that DCPS is truly invested in honoring Black people and DC’s history; where Black contributions are so prevalent they cannot—in good conscience—be ignored.

I had only learned about Reno City in the past year. As is true for most Black history, it’s story only truly gained traction when instances of blatant racism in the 21st century became more widely-known. It’s disappointing that Black success is revealed only when horrific incidents plaguing its community are also in the spotlight. Renaming our school to Reno City High School is only the beginning of the battle in making sure that gentrification doesn’t erase the most important part of our city: its history.