After a flurry of petitions calling attention to local schools whose namesakes were slave owners, the Montgomery County Board of Education will survey those communities to see if they want to change the schools’ names.
During a meeting on Tuesday, school board members unanimously passed a resolution requiring Superintendent Jack Smith to work with the schools — Richard Montgomery High, Thomas S. Wootton High, Montgomery Blair High, Col. Zadok Magruder High, Francis Scott Key Middle and John Poole Middle — to “determine whether these communities have expressed an interest in renaming the schools.”
The six schools, along with Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School, were named in a 2019 report commissioned by the school board to determine which of its 208 schools are named after slave owners or people who “supported the institution of slavery.”
Lee Middle School is currently undergoing a renaming process.
This summer, amid national outcry after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, focus returned to the schools’ names. Several online petitions were created, gathering hundreds of signatures, calling on the school board to change their names to honor people with less controversial pasts.
On Tuesday, board member Pat O’Neill acknowledged the petitions, mostly signed by students, and said the school district “needs to cast a wider net” to determine the communities’ preferences.
Smith was asked to provide the school board with a report this summer.
If he finds that any of the communities favor renaming, the school board will determine whether to move forward with the process.
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 school board pursues renaming any of the schools, it will have to suggest up to four name options. 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.
According to the report on school names, completed in 2019, the schools’ namesakes relationships to slavery were:
• Montgomery Blair High School: Montgomery Blair, born in May 1813 in Kentucky, served as a U.S. district attorney and mayor of St. Louis, Missouri. Blair represented Dred Scott, an African American man who petitioned for freedom from slavery. He served in the Maryland House of Delegates in the late 1870s. Blair took an “anti-slavery” political stance, but his family was known to own slaves. He died in July 1883 in Silver Spring.
• Francis Scott Key Middle School: Francis Scott Key, the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was born in Frederick County in 1779. Key was a slave owner, but said slavery was “full of sin” and “a bed of torture.” He died in 1843.
• Col. Zadok Magruder High School: Zadok Magruder was a member of a prominent Maryland family who owned more than 4,000 acres in Calvert and Prince George’s counties. Magruder was a delegate to the first Maryland Convention held in 1774. During the Revolutionary War, Magruder was a colonel and commander of Lower Frederick County, later Montgomery County. He was elected as one of the first seven commissioners of Montgomery County. In the first national census, conducted in 1790, Magruder is shown as the head of a household that owned 26 slaves. Magruder died in 1811.
• Richard Montgomery High School: Richard Montgomery, a decorated war hero, was born in 1738 and raised in Ireland. He later became a major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. On Dec. 31, 1775, he led an attack on Quebec City, but was killed during the battle. Montgomery never set foot in current-day Montgomery County, according to historians, and became a slave owner when he married into his wife’s family.
• John Poole Middle School: In 1793, John Poole opened a one-room store at the intersection of two roads used by plantation owners in western Montgomery County, where the town of Poolesville is now. Poole, born in 1769, owned four slaves when he opened his store.
• Thomas S. Wootton High School: A member of the first Maryland Convention, Thomas Sprigg Wootton, was a leading figure in the county during its formative years, introducing legislation in the 1776 Maryland General Assembly to establish Montgomery County. Wootton was born in 1740 and died in 1789. He owned “around three dozen” slaves, which placed him “among some of the largest slaveholders in Maryland at the time,” according to the MCPS report. When he died, Wootton liberated three of his slaves and left the rest to his nephew. Wootton told his nephew to “be kind” to them.