Katherine Johnson, Odessa Shannon proposed for renamed Lee Middle School

Katherine Johnson, Odessa Shannon proposed for renamed Lee Middle School

Montgomery County slave Josiah Henson is third choice; decision expected by November

| Published:

Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School.

via MCPS

A Silver Spring middle school will be renamed this year, possibly honoring a prominent Black community leader.

Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School currently honors a segregationist whose racially restrictive zoning is “still having an effect today,” according to historians.

In February 2019, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to accept the Lee Middle School community’s request to rename the school and began deliberations to choose a new namesake.

On Monday, the school board voted to expedite the process, with a vote on the new name to be made by November.

The school board proposed three namesakes for the school, all prominent Black activists or community leaders:

  • Josiah Henson, who was enslaved in Montgomery County before obtaining freedom and becoming an author and abolitionist
  • Katherine Johnson, a mathematician credited with making the calculations that helped Americans land on the moon in 1969
  • Odessa Shannon, the first Black woman elected to public office in Montgomery County.

The new name for Lee Middle School will take effect on the birthdate of the person for whom it is renamed, according to the school board’s resolution.

Henson’s birthday was June 15, 1789; Johnson’s Aug. 26, 1918; and Shannon’s July 4, 1928.

The school community can propose additional names and will rank the proposed names in order of preference, but the school board makes the final determination for school facility names.

Lee was a prominent Maryland politician and founded the county’s Planning Department. He created Montgomery County’s first land use and zoning system, but historians say he purposely attached racially restrictive policies that prohibited Black people from buying or renting homes in subdivisions.

Lee was an “unrepentant segregationist up until the bitter end,” according to county historians. He died in 1984.

The school board resolution passed Monday said “the recent deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement in this country” prompted members to request that Lee Middle School be renamed as quickly as possible. The new name was previously expected to be decided in 2022, in conjunction with the completion of a major building project at the school.

“The Board of Education must take swift, intentional action to eradicate racism and inequalities that exist within Montgomery County Public Schools because, in the words of the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘the time is always right to do what is right,’ ” the resolution said. “It is time to rename Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School.”

The process to rename Lee Middle School began when Montgomery County Council Member Nancy Navarro penned a letter to the school board focusing on Lee’s racist history. She highlighted that Lee Middle has a student population that is less than 5% white.

“Continuing to name that school after Mr. Lee would be simply wrong,” Navarro wrote. “I am asking you as a matter of justice and equity to use your existing processes to bestow E. Brooke Lee Middle School with a name that does not daily remind the children of that school of Mr. Lee’s horrid past.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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