School honoring Confederate general has a new name: Justice

FILE - In this July 20, 2017, file photo, the sign for J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Va., named after the slaveholding Confederate general who was mortally wounded in an 1864 battle. A school board member wants the high school to be renamed Justice High. The Fairfax County school board is scheduled to pick a new name on Thursday, Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Matt Barakat, File)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A Virginia school board has chosen “Justice” as the new name for a high school that has honored a Confederate general since the 1950s.

The Fairfax County school board had solicited input from families inside the school’s attendance boundaries after deciding to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church. The community’s top choice was to remove “J.E.B.” and be known simply as “Stuart High School.” Indeed, the board itself had suggested Stuart High as a possible compromise back in July when it voted to remove the J.E.B. Stuart name.

But in a 7-4 vote following a four-hour debate Thursday night, the board opted for its own idea of Justice High School.

The board considered and rejected two other names suggested by the community — Louis Mendez, a decorated World War II veteran and education advocate; and Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights lawyer who became a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The board rejected Mendez on a 6-6 vote. Marshall’s name proved problematic because another high school in the Falls Church section of the county is already named Marshall in honor of World War II general and statesman George C. Marshall.

Changing the name could cost as much as $900,000.

The vote ends a protracted debate that began in 2015, when actress Julianne Moore and Hollywood producer Bruce Cohen, both Stuart alums, launched a petition demanding the name change.

J.E.B. Stuart High opened in 1959. The school board chose the name in 1958, during the years when Virginia was embroiled in what became known as Massive Resistance to federal desegregation efforts. There’s a dispute as to whether the Stuart name was picked as a jab at integration, or whether they simply chose to honor Stuart as a native Virginian who once famously fooled the Union Army into inaction by displaying so-called Quaker cannons — tree trunks that from a distance looked like an array of imposing artillery — at a site near the school.

Today, Stuart is one of the most diverse schools in Fairfax County, which runs the 10th largest school district in the nation and one of the wealthiest.