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GUEST OPINION: Why I asked for a discussion and new vote on ‘Gainesville High School’

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Lillie Jessie Occoquan representative on the Prince William County School Board

Prince William County School Board member Lillie Jessie (Occoquan)

I know this is not the most pressing issue in Prince William County schools, but I must clear up misconceptions and misrepresentations about the Gainesville High School naming. 

When we voted to name the county’s 13th high school “Gainesville High School” back in June, I did not know Thomas B. Gaines, Gainesville’s namesake, was a constable and a slave owner.

At the time of his death in 1856, Gaines had eight slaves: Bill, Henry, Lucian, Margurite, Martha, Rose, Stephan and Wallace, according to Prince William County property records, which are a matter of public record.

Gaines also served as an elected constable from 1833 to 1837 and again after 1845. A constable was a law-enforcement agent who served under the sheriff to enforce slave laws and all laws on the books at the time.

I have no issue with the Gainesville area’s good people, nor was I ever asking that EVERYTHING that bears the name Gainesville be renamed. I understand the people inherited the name. I understand other people find no fault with the name, and I support their right to have that opinion. I also understand the name is derivate, but in my mind we cannot dismiss derivatives.  For example, would we dismiss a school named Wallaceville if the derivative was the name of George Wallace? 

I, too, initially voted in favor of naming the new high school for Gainesville but changed my mind for reasons that I feel are important to share with the public. I want the community to know that :

I personally do not support continuing to place this name on a school building.

I do not believe I am harming anyone when I say do not want to vote for that name, as I am a descendant of slaves who lived through segregation, who was not allowed to attend the White high school directly in front of my home, who marched in the Civil Rights movement -- including the march to desegregate the same bowling alley that later became the site of the Orangeburg, S.C., massacre -- and that I was jailed for my actions.

I feel strongly that the community, especially the students, had a right to know of our findings immediately and not six or seven months later.  We knew on June 11.

My Civil Rights story is archived in the Library of Congress. This influences my thinking daily. Because of whom I am, and because of my prior experiences in the segregated South, I cannot vote for any name that incorporates Mr. Gaines' name. While it may not be a big deal to others, and I respect that, I ask others to respect that it is a big deal to me. 

All I wanted was the right to remove my vote consenting to this name. At no time did I contact othe school board members asking them to change their vote. I JUST NEEDED TO CHANGE MINE.

Our school board’s regulation for naming new schools says preference should be given to educators, especially those from Prince William County. Mrs. Lillian Orlich, who retired in 2017 at age 89 after a 67-year career as a school counselor, was among the individuals whose names were suggested for the new school. Ms. Orlich was known to arrive at Osbourn Park High School as early as 3 a.m. and was featured on the cover of the National Education Association’s magazine.  

When the school board asked for public input on the school name, Ms. Orlich received 105 votes, second only to the late Officer Ashley Guindon, who was fatally shot in 2016 on her first day on the job with the Prince William County Police Department. Officer Guindon’s name received 210 votes. The name Gainesville received only 29 votes – 181 fewer votes than that of Guindon and 76 fewer than that of Orlich.

The day after the school board voted to approved the name “Gainesville High School,” we learned about Mr. Gaines. We did not discuss our new-found knowledge nor share it with the public.

I want my name to be removed in support of Gainesville, so I asked for an opportunity to take my vote away from Gainesville and give it to Mrs. Orlich. I also wanted to inform the public of the basis for the decision. 

When I pursued the matter further, formally asking for it to be placed on the agenda, Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef accused me of an ethics violation. I reminded him and other board members that I was within my rights under Robert's Rules of Order to request a new vote since I voted with the majority. 

The local NAACP asked Dr. Lateef in November to place the naming on the agenda for discussion. The Prince William County Democratic Committee and the Democratic Committee’s Black Caucus also asked the board to reconsider.

When the naming appeared on the school board’s Jan. 6 agenda, Dr. Lateef did not mention the requests from the other groups, nor did he tell me that he had placed my name as the sole individual requesting a discussion and vote for renaming.

The item came up for a vote between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. I told the board I wanted the public to hear my reasoning and knew few were watching the meeting at that time. 

I asked the matter to be tabled so I could present it at the next meeting. The board did not vote for that motion. They did not vote to support my request despite their decision to delay discussion on the “Return to Learn” plan until the Jan. 13 meeting because of the lack of an audience at that hour. 

Knowing that I could not achieve the goal of making my position known and feeling that I was not given a meaningful opportunity, I decided not to present my arguments at 3 a.m.  I indicated I would seek another forum.  This is it.

I felt then and still feel strongly that the community and the upcoming students have the right to know the origin of the name “Gainesville,” and now that of the new high school, whether the name is changed or not.

And I cannot forget that we are placing a slave-owner’s name on a $160 million building, one of the most expensive schools in Virginia.

The writer is the Occoquan representative on the Prince William County School Board.

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(11) comments

mia

I, as a public-school student, believe that name changes in public schools and/or buildings are important. The people who oppose this idea because it's "too much money" are being oblivious, in my opinion. I understand that it may not change the history or erase the name from existence, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't do anything about it. I 100% support name changing and support what Jessie has said about this topic. In addition to that, my opinion on this topic did stay the same because this is what I truly believe. Changing the school name is a great idea, whether people like it or not. It shows a form of respect and that people actually care about making a change, which is something we want other people to see in our state and community. It sets a good example for the future generations and for others to follow our example. Doing nothing is not an option. You cannot and should not be neutral about this situation. I'm talking about overall being neutral about what's going on with things like the Black Lives Matter movement and the overall racial discussions.

Ms. Jessie’s use of ethos, pathos, and logos is seen throughout this article. I noticed mostly logos because she does provide a lot of factual evidence to back up her argument. For example, Jessie uses logos to help persuade the audience by telling us the history of the word “Gainesville.” She writes that “...Thomas B. Gaines, Gainesville’s namesake, was a constable and a slave owner.” Moreover, additional information is stated about who this man is and why we should not place “...a slave-owner’s name on a $160 million building, one of the most expensive schools in Virginia.” Jessie writes that “At the time of his death in 1856, Gaines had eight slaves: Bill, Henry, Lucian, Margurite, Martha, Rose, Stephan and Wallace, according to Prince William County property records, which are a matter of public record.” Her use to logos helps persuade the audience to agree with her on this topic. They will notice why it is bad to keep the school name the way it is and possibly want a change. This use of persuasion is effective to me because you cannot argue with the facts. Honestly, there should be no argument about what Jessie said, especially because this is her opinion.

Furthermore, there are two more things I need to mention. First of all, I am disgusted with how people are acting and what they are commenting about Jessie’s article. Saying she is a “wicked nasty racist woman” is horrible. I notice that these people are giving her all this shade but have not backed up their argument with ethos, or anything rhetorical. This makes their argument weaker than it already is. Coming after Jessie or anybody in a rude manner based on her OPINION is wrong. She states multiple times how this is her opinion only and apparently these people don’t get it. Second of all, I saw a comment that really upsets me. Somebody said “People need to get over sh ! t that happened over 150 years ago.” This comment is wrong in so many ways. Of course somebody could argue saying that this is somebody’s opinion, but this is absolutely disgusting to say. People that say and believe these things are oblivious to the world around them and need to be open-minded before saying anything.

Finally, and in conclusion, as a student who will be attending this high school, my opinion about the naming of the new school does not change. Jessie did a great job in explaining her reason for wanting the school name to change, and I fully agree with her.

Epistilographos

Ms. Jessie wants a mulligan, it seems, and though this also seems like just more woke progressive virtue-signaling, I respect her right to voice her opinion publicly, a right that so many woke progressives actively deny their philosophical rivals. That said, naming a high school after a place is about as saccharine an approach as I can imagine, sort of like a certain sports franchise naming itself the Washington Football Team, and Ms. Jessie had all the time in the world to research Mr. Gaines' past before the vote was taken, so despite her civil rights credentials, I'd say, play the ball where it lies.

Justsometruth

This is another reason Prince William should be divided into two halves. I mean isn’t this why Manassas City and Manassas Park finally left this half a s s county.

Justsometruth

Do not believe this wicked nasty racist woman. She was a corrupt principal who did not care for her students only forced them to learn how to take a test so they did well to make her look good. Her students were mostly minorities just so you know. She also treated her white employees like trash. Did you know she went years with out an assistant principal because no one wanted to ruin their career working underneath her corrupt ways. She should have done her research on the namesake of the Gainesville area if it was that important for her as a civil rights activist or for someone that suffered so much under civil rights. But obviously she did not care until someone said something so she can grandstand for votes. I have no idea why the people of her district still vote her a s s into office. She did nothing good for the school district as an employee and her buddy Walts brushed everything under the rug.....and she has done nothing for the school district as a board member.

iamhere

what

iamhere

Why do you know so much personal stuff about her? That's kind of weird..

weouchere

People need to get over sh ! t that happened over 150 years ago.

iamhere

Ok, then you agree we should get over 9/11 ? Because just like slavery, it was ALSO in the past.

Mrs. Silence Dogood

Thank you for your letter.

The one thing missing in your explanations is why you voted for Gainesville High School to begin with over any other of the choices?

Thank you.

Rembrandt

Probably not the best use of your time, your lengthy ordeal. Meanwhile. Orlich apparently taught at a segregated, all-white high school at some point in her career, so she sounds like a terrible racist and her own legacy should definitely be cancelled, not considered. Next!

iamhere

what?

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