Montgomery County students have gathered more than 1,000 signatures in a push to rename Winston Churchill High School in Potomac.
The call for change joins a growing list of demands to rename local high schools. Recently, petitions have surfaced asking for Col. Zadok Magruder and Richard Montgomery high schools to also be renamed.
All three petitions point to the schools’ namesakes’ ties to slavery or white supremacy.
Churchill was a member of Parliament in England for more than 60 years and served as the prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature and has been praised in the United Kingdom for defending Europe’s democracy from fascism.
But the Churchill High petition says its namesake perpetrated “crimes against humanity” in England.
It says Churchill stole grain from India to feed soldiers in World War II, which contributed to the death of Indians. He also ordered Kenyans into camps “where they were subject to severe torture, malnutrition, beatings,” the petition says, and he defended the use of concentration camps in South Africa.
The petition says Churchill called Indians “beastly” and inferior to white people.
“There is a psychological impact of naming the places we live in and learn after destructive and hateful figures,” the petition says. “We should refuse to glorify the people who murdered and abused our students’ ancestors.”
The students who created the petition have proposed three alternate names for the school, honoring William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois, Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass.
Tubman and Douglass were well-known abolitionists and Du Bois was a civil rights activist, sociologist, author and historian who was the first African American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard University. Du Bois was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
About 47% of Churchill High School’s student population is white, according to school system data. About 9% of students are Black, 8% are Hispanic and 30% are Asian.
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 Winston Churchill High, it will have to suggest up to four name options. Superintendent Jack Smith would have to establish a committee of representatives from the community to provide opinions about the options, according to the policy.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org