Council votes in favor of Jackson-Reed

Hadley Carr

After years of community debate, the DC Council this month voted to rename Wilson “Jackson-Reed High School.” The name honors two pioneering Black educators at Wilson: Edna B. Jackson, the first Black female teacher, and Vincent Reed, the first Black principal.

DC Council’s 11-1 vote was the first of two needed to send the bill to Mayor Muriel Bowser, who would then sign or veto the bill. The second vote is yet to be scheduled. 

All council members voted in favor of the bill, except for Vincent Gray, who was absent, and Janeese Lewis George, who abstained, voting “present.” Prior to the vote, Lewis George noted that she supported renaming the school exclusively for Jackson, who was hired in 1955, after Brown vs. Board of Education required school desegregation. 

“I can’t let the DC native, black, woman, brilliant teacher who endured more than most of us could endure be the compromise piece here.” Lewis George said.

 In late May 2021, DC Council received the mayor’s proposal of Black playwright August Wilson as the new name, aligning with the Chancellor’s proposal. The Chancellor recommended August Wilson based upon the results of a public survey completed in December 2020.

However, following large pushback from the Wilson community and outside organizations, the DC Council amended the bill to Jackson-Reed. Testimony from Wilson staff, alumni, and organizations formed the majority of the support for Edna Jackson and Vincent Reed. 

Interim Principal Gregory Bargeman noted that the process was difficult to explain to the school community, but ultimately “we have someone who was a great principal, someone who was a great teacher, [the] first African American teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School.” 

English teacher Marc Minisker, who testified before the DC Council in favor of Jackson, said that while he is grateful the name has changed, he felt that the three-year process was “ridiculous,” attributing student disinterest in the name change to the length of the process.

After the vote, Minsker polled his class to gauge student opinion on the name, Jackson-Reed. The results did not match the opinion of the council. Few students were aware of the latest change; more believed that the new name would be August Wilson.

SGA President Vanessa Ramon-Ibarra said that she feels students are still in support of August Wilson. “At our school, Wilson has become such an important name to us,” she said, ”People are just having a really hard time letting go of that name.” 

Ramon-Ibarra said that there was a lack of involvement of the student body in the process. “If they want something to change within our school, they need to start including us in the conversation more,” she said. 

With the name change nearing completion, students have concerns. While Junior frisbee player Charles Ertz understands the reasoning behind the name change, he feels that it will be difficult to “get used to it,” considering that the team is likely to transition to new uniforms.

“I respect the name change,” senior Dakota Joi Innis added, “but I think August Wilson is the best choice because now we have to change the gym [and other Wilson signage].”

While Freshman Zia Kaufman appreciated the name’s relation to DC, she noted that most schools in DC have no relation to the school or the District. Kaufman also had concerns with the school’s infrastructure, mascot, and the name senior classes will graduate under.

According to Bargeman, Wilson is set to receive money to fund uniforms as well as other infrastructure from DCPS. The name of the school that the current senior class will graduate under remains unknown.

Several years ago, former Principal Kimberly Martin started the transition to remove the name “Woodrow” from uniforms and signage. The school community followed in her footsteps, as the school is colloquially referred to as “Wilson.”

The DC History and Justice Collective also played a large role in assembling support for the name change. As they near the end of the three-year project, co-founder Judith Ingram notes that the collective is “pleased” with the decision. 

Ingram added that she hopes that an education about the lives and successes of Vincent Reed and Edna B. Jackson will accompany the renaming. Minsker echoed this sentiment, hoping to use the Chesapeake house—located on the corner of Belt Road and Chesapeake Street—to honor the history of the school as well as Jackson and Reed.
Despite the frustration with the length of the process, there was ultimately a sense of relief for a step towards the approval of a new name for Wilson. “We’re really grateful to the Council for taking a closer look, and scrutinizing what DCPS and the mayor had recommended,” DC History and Justice Collective co-founder Tim Hannapel said. •