Robert E. Lee High School Drops Confederate General's Name for Civil Rights Icon John Lewis: 'True Hero'

"We will also honor his life's work by continuing to promote equity, justice, tolerance and service in the work that we do," the school said

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., waits to enter the Senate chamber to listen to the farewell address of the Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the Capitol on Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Georgia Rep. John Lewis in 2019. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call

Memorials for Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader and longtime lawmaker, have poured in since his July 17 death.

The latest honor comes out of Springfield, Virginia, where the Fairfax County School Board voted Thursday to officially rename its Robert E. Lee High School after Lewis.

"Rep. Lewis was a champion of the Civil Rights movement, and our Board strongly believes this is an appropriate tribute to an individual who is a true American hero," the school said. "We will also honor his life’s work by continuing to promote equity, justice, tolerance and service in the work that we do.”

By Friday morning, online search results for the school had already re-labeled it "John Lewis High School," removing the honorific for the Confederate general.

John Lewis
Rep. John Lewis in 2017. Getty Images

Lewis, 80, was the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. At 23, Lewis was the youngest speaker at the event and the youngest of the "Big Six" leaders of the civil rights movement.

Lewis led the march in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965 — which led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The activist was then elected to Congress in 1986 as a representative from Georgia and continued civil service throughout the rest of his life, earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

He was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in December but continued to serve in Congress and speak out on civil rights issues, including racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. (Floyd's death has prompted national demonstrations and a renewed push to remove the many Confederate memorials across the country.)

"You say to yourself, 'How many more? How long? How long?' " Lewis told New York magazine a month before his death.

Funeral services for Lewis will take place Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, following a week of memorial services across the South.

The "celebration of life" for Lewis will make stops next week in the Alabama towns of Troy, Selma and Montgomery, as well as Washington D.C., the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Though space is limited at some of those events, visitors will be able to view Lewis' casket during the memorial. Lewis' family asks visitors to wear masks, whether the services are outdoors or inside, according to the AJC.

<a href="" data-inlink="true">Barack Obama</a> embraces Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., after Lewis introduced the president with an emotional speech by the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement, . Rep. Lewis was beaten during "Bloody Sunday" and is a leader of the civil rights movement Obama Selma 50th, Selma, USA
President Barack Obama hugs Rep. John Lewis o the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday". Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Shutterstock

The Fairfax County School Board said the school will immediately adopt the new name for the 2020 fall semester.

"Our schools must be places where all students, staff, and members of the community feel safe and supported," said school board member Tamara Derenak Kaufax, who proposed the name change alongside fellow board member Karen Keys-Gamarra.

Kaufax added: "I believe that John Lewis’ extraordinary life and advocacy for racial justice will serve as an inspiration to our students and community for generations to come.”

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