More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition urging the school board to rename Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville as the county sharpens its focus on connections that building namesakes might have to slavery and racism.
One of at least six Montgomery County schools named after slave owners, Richard Montgomery is home to a student body that is about 17% Black. The call for its renaming comes amid a national civil rights and racial justice uprising sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
Chauvin and three other officers who were present have all been fired and charged criminally.
Since Floyd’s death, protesters across the country have flooded streets calling for an end to police brutality, racism and glorifying slave owners and Confederate Army officers.
Richard Montgomery was a general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and became a slave owner when he married into his wife’s family, according to historians. Even though he never set foot in current-day Montgomery County, the county also is named after him.
The petition to rename Richard Montgomery High — opened in 1942 — says that while Montgomery “may have his place in history, he no longer deserves a place on the front of our school.”
“Montgomery owned a number of slaves over his lifetime, and we strongly believe that celebrating a slave owner is contradictory to the community of diversity and inclusion we’ve fostered,” the petition says.
A student group at the school started the petition drive.
Three new possible namesakes are offered in the petition:
- Emily Catherine Edmonson: Edmondson was born into slavery in Montgomery County. She was freed in 1848 and was an abolitionist who worked alongside Frederick Douglass.
- Lillian Beatrice Brown: Brown was a Montgomery County resident whose grandparents were slaves. She was the principal and teacher at Germantown Colored Elementary School, and later at Beall Elementary after it was integrated.
- Gladys P. Young: A Montgomery County equal rights advocate who was among the earliest champions of accountability in employment after integration, and worked to secure housing agreements for people of color.
The school board has a policy addressing the naming of school facilities that says “it is preferred” that school facilities be named after “deceased distinguished persons who have made an outstanding contribution to the community, county, state or nation.” The board is advised to give strongest consideration to names of women and minorities.
If the community formally proposes the idea and the school board pursues a renaming of Richard Montgomery High, it will have to suggest up to four name options and Superintendent Jack Smith will establish a committee of representatives from the community who will list the options in order of preference, according to the policy.
The committee can provide up to two additional naming options.
A renaming process is ongoing for Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Silver Spring.
Lee was a prominent Maryland politician and founder of the county Planning Department.
Lee is credited with creating the first land use and zoning system for the county, but historians say he purposely attached racially restrictive policies prohibiting African Americans from buying or renting homes in subdivisions, according to county reports.
County Council Member Nancy Navarro asked the school board in February 2019 to consider renaming the school, which sparked a countywide review of school names.
A review group found that six, including Lee Middle School, are named after slave owners. The report has not yet been presented to the school board.
The Montgomery County Council this week asked Executive Marc Elrich and Planning Department Chairman Casey Anderson to review the names of all county-owned streets and facilities to determine which are named after Confederate soldiers.
Council members wrote in a letter that they would like to see all identified facilities renamed.
During a Planning Board meeting on Thursday, board member Natali Fani Gonzalez asked that park names be added to the review.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com