Strong Opposition to renaming high school after Marion S. Barry

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Afro American Newspaper

(TriceEdneyWire.com) — The possible renaming of Ballou Senior High School in South East’s Ward 8 of Washington, DC, to Marion S. Barry Senior High School has drawn some strong reactions from community members and alumni of the institution.

The late Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry
The late Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry

The D.C. Commission to Commemorate and Recognize the Honorable Marion S. Barry Jr. has recommended that the current administration rename Ballou Senior High School in honor of Barry. The commission received other recommendations such as renaming Good Hope Road S.E. in Ward 8, the new University of the District of Columbia student center in Ward 3 and either installing a bust or statue in the John A. Wilson Building located in Ward 2. However, changing Ballou’s name has generated the most discussion.

“I think the alumni and the students should have a say on changing the name of Ballou,” the Rev. Oliver Johnson, a parent of two graduates from the high school, said. “I talked to both of my children, who are graduates of Ballou about this and while they were fond of Marion Barry, they aren’t too sure about the name change.”

The commission held a public hearing last August to get public input on how to honor Barry and many of the speakers supported Ballou being renamed in honor of the former mayor. The formal recommendation for the honor was made Nov. 23.

Nicknamed “Mayor for Life,” the widely beloved Barry is a national hero to many. The son of a Mississippi sharecropper, the civil rights activist served three terms as mayor before surviving a drug arrest and jail sentence; then coming back to be re-elected as mayor. Among other accomplishments, Barry is credited with hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development in D.C. during his tenure, much of which was spent with black businesses and contractors. He died Nov. 23, 2014 at the age of 78.

Saying Barry deserves even greater recognition, Monique Goldston, who graduated from Ballou in 1997, doesn’t support the high school name change.

“Ballou has a history with that name,” Goldston, who lives across the street from the school, said. “Marion Barry did a lot for the city as a whole and he should be remembered for something bigger than just a high school.”

Christopher Barry, a member of the commission commemorating his late father, is circulating a petition and is active on social media promoting the name change. Barry, who ran and lost in the April 2015 special election to take his father’s council seat, said that Ballou isn’t a name that a predominantly black high school should have.

“Who was Frank W. Ballou? Christopher Barry asks rhetorically. “What I have heard is that he was a segregationist and didn’t believe in black education.”

Ballou served as the superintendent of the D.C. public schools from 1920-1943 when racially segregated schools were dustrict law. Ballou Senior High School was opened in 1960 when the Congress Heights neighborhood in which it sits was predominantly white. Christopher Barry said that “Barry High School” would be one of the few landmarks for blacks in the city.

An anti-name change group held a public meeting at Ballou on Feb. 18. Isabelle Jenkins, a longtime D.C. resident tried to attend the meeting but when she revealed that she supported the name change, she was told by an organizer that she shouldn’t participate.

Jenkins exploded in indignation. “Who do they want to name the school after, George Wallace or Bull Conner?” Jenkins told the AFRO. “Heck, Marion Barry has done so much for this city that I think the White House should be named after him….Barry helped to secure funds for the re-building of this school. Without his intervention, the students and faculty wouldn’t have this nice shiny building to come to every day.”

Karen Lucas, a leader in the anti-name change group and a 1988 Ballou alumna, suggested another high school be named in honor of Barry. “The new Empowering Males High School should be named for him,” Lucas said, speaking of the all-male public secondary institution that will open in the fall in Ward 7.

D.C. Council member LaRuby May (D-Ward 8) hasn’t commented publicly about the name change but her chief opponent, former Ward 8 State Board of Education member Trayon White, is a 2002 graduate of Ballou and supports the name change.

Bowser will make the decision on the school’s name change and the D.C. Council must vote to approve or disapprove it.

“Mayor Bowser hasn’t set up a definite date to decide about the Barry Commission’s recommendations,” said LaToya Foster, Bowser’s senior communications officer. “The mayor is committed to honoring Mr. Barry in a way that symbolizes his great accomplishments and contributions to the city.”

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