DC Council proposes Jackson Reed High School


Joanna Chait, Ellen Carrier, and Hadley Carr

DC council members proposed to rename Wilson for Edna B. Jackson and Vincent Reed Monday evening, effectively repealing the Chancellor’s proposal to name the school after playwright August Wilson. 

Jackson and Reed were the school’s first Black teacher and Principal, respectively. 

On October 19, the Committee of the Whole will vote to put the “Jackson Reed High School Designation Act of 2021” on the council’s next legislative agenda.

The proposal follows a public testimony on October 6, in which the Council heard from community members regarding legislation to rename the school to August Wilson High School. 

The committee’s recommendation comes in opposition to Chancellor Lewis Ferebee’s proposal in April 2021 to rename the school for August Wilson. 

“Both [Jackson and Reed] had a profound effect on many in the Wilson community and the District as a whole,” the committee wrote in their proposal. “Changing the name of the school now is an opportunity to lift up the names of two people who were deeply connected to the city and to Wilson high school.”

The committee recognized August Wilson’s legacy, but ultimately opposed the name due to the lack of connection to the school. 

“The school [would] still be known as ‘Wilson High School,’” the committee continued. “[The name would] cling to the past under the shadow of the former President instead of embracing a new future for the school, with a connection to the DC and school community.”

The council noted that DCPS has sufficient funds to “cover the cost of signage for the new name.” 

There was no clear consensus at the October 6 hearing, as the public testimonies were split between renaming the school after August Wilson or renaming the school in honor of Jackson or Reed. 

Chairman of the Whole Phil Mendelson said in an email, “I expected more support than I heard at the hearing for ‘August Wilson.’ I also expected that there would be more disagreement as to alternative names, but I would say there was surprising support for combining the names of two former teachers at the high school: Edna Jackson and Vincent Reed.” There were 20 spoken testimonies at the hearing and 11 written testimonies. Those testifying included current community members, Jackson’s niece, and Wilson alumni.

Three Wilson staff members testified: ELA teacher Marc Minsker, former Principal Kimberly Martin, and Director of Academy of Hospitality and Tourism Alex Wilson. 

In Minsker’s statement, he noted that 68 percent of Wilson staff surveyed in January 2021 were in support of Edna Jackson or Vincent Reed. Martin and Wilson testified in favor of August Wilson. 

Following Mayor Muriel Bowser’s endorsement of August Wilson, Martin immediately urged members of the Wilson community to support the name August Wilson. 

“Please accept the proposed new name for the school, a name that was decided upon after considering input from over 6,000 students, staff, families, alumni, and others,” Martin wrote in her testimony. 

Other proponents of August Wilson, including alumni, cited their connection to the name Wilson. “We as the Alumni have invested a lot into the ‘Wilson’ name and we as Wilson Tigers don’t want to lose that moniker,” class of 1982 alumnus Guy Durant said. 

However, supporters of Jackson and Reed felt that renaming the school after August Wilson was a “half-measure,” in the words of former Wilson English teacher of 17 years Joe Reiner. 

“[The proposal] conveys an attitude of convenience or accommodation to [August Wilson’s] legacy,” Reiner wrote. 

Hubbard Flanagan, a former student of Edna Jackson, echoed this sentiment, saying “August Wilson deserves his own honors, not the backdoor honor of having the same last name of the person being displaced from an honorary position.” 

Ruth Wattenberg, representative for Ward 3 on the DC State Board of Education (BOE), voiced her support for August Wilson.

Ward 5 councilmember and Wilson alumnus Kenyan McDuffie argued to rename the school to Edna Jackson.“I’m personally invested in this project,” McDuffie said. 

The other members of the council have not publicly announced their support for either name.

There will likely be an opportunity for further testimony from the community. The measure will require two stages of voting. The legislation would need a signature by the Mayor and would then be sent to Congress for review. •