Sunday, July 5, 2020

Still Life with Robin: 65+ Replacement Names for Wilson HS

Name  To Be Determined High School
by Peggy Robin

As the push to rename Wilson High School gains momentum, it’s starting to look like this is going to happen! Close to 20,000 people have signed the petition to change the name. Civic groups, student groups, and community leaders are all lining up behind it. I can’t think of anything that will hold back this fast-moving train.…..Oh, except for maybe one teensy, tiny little detail. We don’t have a replacement name lined up. And you can’t remove a name from a school and leave it as No-Name High. So it’s time to get cracking on a name that fits the bill.

Plenty of people have ideas on this subject. You can see a list of over SIXTY-FIVE nominations at:

Way too many choices! What we need is a way to winnow down the number to a handful of strong contenders. And then we need to take a close look at the finalists and see if we can create a consensus around one name that passes muster, after due consideration of the following important factors:

1. Enough time has passed. The honored person needs to have been dead long enough to allow sufficient time for the legacy to be evaluated and appreciated. I would propose abiding by the federal standard used for putting someone on a postage stamp – five years.
2. Enough honors. If the person’s name is already on a DC area school, it’s confusing to have the same name on yet another one. Also, if the person’s name is on a major airport, or there are already statues, museums, institutions or monuments for that person, that makes the naming of this high school seem like overkill.
3. Too obscure. This one I’m calling the “Who’s that?” test. If I have never heard of the person before (and I pride myself on being something of a local trivia expert!) and I had to resort to Wikipedia to find out the most basic facts about the person – frankly, they’re just not famous enough.
4. No special connection to DC. Lots of people on the list are highly accomplished….for contributions to the arts, science, social justice, peace…..but they simply did not do any of their lauded accomplishments here in our city. They weren’t born here and did not grow up here, either. There’s no shortage of people who do have that local DC connection – so let’s stick with our own local talent.
5. Can of worms/mixed legacy. The movement to remove Wilson’s name comes from his decidedly mixed legacy. He was a great leader for global peace – and deservedly honored for that role – but his record when it comes to racial justice, especially toward the African American government employees right here in DC – is nothing short of abysmal. In renaming the school, let’s not trade one badly mixed legacy for another. So we should set aside the nomination of anyone known for some great things but also widely reputed to have done some awful ones… poor treatment of the women in their lives, or violence toward family members, or financial hanky-panky. It’s not that hard to find good people who managed to live their lives without any major instances of bad behavior that would be difficult to ignore as high school students are learning about the life of the person whose name graces their school.
6. Not another DWEM (Dead White European-origin Male). There’s no shortage of schools and other public buildings and structures named for DWEMs. They proliferate around the city -- so many statues of marble, limestone, and bronze. It’s long past time for more recognition of African Americans and other people of color, as well as women, and LGBT leaders. 

Now let’s dive straight into that 65+ member list at and start knocking them off.  

1. Not enough time has passed.
  • Ruby Bridges – still alive
  • Warren Buffet – still alive
  • Elijah Cummings – died in 2019
  • Angela Davis – still alive
  • Mae Jemison – still alive
  • John Lewis – still alive
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton – still alive
  • Barack Obama – still alive
  • Michelle Obama – still alive
  • Oprah Winfrey – still alive

2. Enough honors. The following already have an DC metro area school named in their honor – or a statue in a prominent place in DC, or they’ve got a major institution, airport, structure, or even their own museum here or someplace else in the country.
  • Muhammad Ali – has an airport and a museum in Louisville, KY, lots of statues in various places, a shopping mall in the Philippines, and he’s been on a postage stamp.
  • Ralph Bunche – the Nobel prize-winning diplomat has FOUR designated historic houses bearing his name, over a dozen schools, a building at Howard U. and one at UCLA, plus several others at various institutions and universities – no room to list all the honors here.
  • George Washington Carver – probably the most famous African American scientist – can’t count all the schools that are named for him. Has a museum, multiple parks, historic houses, bridges, navy ships and even a submarine!
  • Shirley Chisholm – the first African American woman elected to Congress and the first one to run a credible campaign for her party’s nomination for President, she is already honored with a state park in New York, and a memorial to her is currently under construction in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
  • Frederick Douglass – the great abolitionist and orator is honored here and around the US with schools, statues, institutes – and of course there’s the Frederick Douglass House and Museum, a National Historic Site in Anacostia.  
  • El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (better known as Malcom X) – over a dozen schools, a DC park (AKA Meridian Hill Park), streets, avenues, boulevards with his name – and don’t forget he was played by Denzel Washington in the 1992 Spike Lee movie.
  • Julius Hobson -- one of the founders of the DC Statehood Party, a civil rights activist, local fair housing advocate, campaigner for school reform, former member of the DC Board of Education and later, an At-Large member of the DC Council – and someone who already has a school named for him in the DC school system: Julius. W. Hobson Middle School, which in 1986 was combined with Stuart Middle School to become Stuart-Hobson Middle School. In addition, there's a housing complex and plaza with his name at New York Avenue & 1st Street, NW.
  • Langston Hughes – the great poet of the Harlem Renaissance – there are schools bearing his name all over the US, his house is a registered national historic landmark – and he even had a Google Doodle in his honor on his 113th birthday in 2015. Now that’s recognition!
  • Helen Keller – the most famous disabled person who ever lived – and undoubtedly the most honored  – schools, streets, medical institutes. She’s been on a postage stamp and on the Alabama state commemorative quarter. Her statue in the rotunda of Congress represents Alabama.
  • John F. Kennedy. The Kennedy Center, JFK airport. Schools out the wazoo. ‘Nuff said.
  • Nelson Mandela. He stands in bronze in the center of London’s Parliament Square. He’s on a pedestal in front of the South African embassy on Mass Ave. His name is on schools all over the world. He doesn’t need another one.
  • Thurgood Marshall. We already have a Thurgood Marshall High School in DC. Not to mention having his name on one of our three major airports.
  • Ida Tarbell – Pioneering investigative journalist, women’s suffrage advocate. Her house in Connecticut is a national historic landmark. She’s been on a postage stamp. I couldn’t find any schools bearing her name, but if there are any, they should be in Pennsylvania, where she lived her early years and was educated, or in New York, where she lived during her most active years as a journalist, or in Connecticut, where she spent her final years.
  • Sojourner Truth. According to Wikipedia, there are 6 statues, 7 monuments/markers/stones, one library, one museum, two historic houses, one portion of an interstate (I-194), one asteroid (#249521), one Mars Pathfinder Rover called “Sojourner”, a postage stamp, and the Google Doodle of Feb 1 2019. The Wikipedia entry noted that there are schools – but did not list them (probably would have taken up too much space).
  • Madam C.J. Walker – The first African American female millionaire/entrepreneur. Has two landmarked properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a theater center, and a business center. And she’s been on a postage stamp.

3. Not famous enough -- meaning, I did not know a single thing about them until I looked them up on Wikipedia….but I learned a lot of great stuff. Hope you will, too!
  • William D. Chapelle, American educator and bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, president of Allen University, an historically black university in Columbia, South Carolina. Great-grandfather of Dave Chapelle, stand-up comedian.
  • Anna J Cooper, educator, sociologist, speaker, scholar, writer, Black Liberation activist – sometimes called “the mother of Black Feminism.” She died at the age of 105 in Washington, DC. Very glad to have learned about her – and it would definitely be worth having a DC school named in her honor – but it really should be in LeDroit Park, where she lived for so much of her life and did so much of her writing. Surely, there’s at least one school in that neighborhood that could be rededicated in her honor.
  • Archibald Grimke - a lawyer, journalist, and diplomat, who became national vice-president of the NAACP, as well as president of the Washington, DC branch. There would be a certain poetic justice in renaming Wilson HS in Grimke’s honor – as Wikipedia notes: “Grimk√© led the public protest in Washington, D.C., against the segregation of federal offices under President Woodrow Wilson, who acceded to wishes of other Southerners on his cabinet. Grimk√© testified before Congress against it in 1914 but did not succeed in gaining changes.” However, there’s one strong reason NOT to name the school for him: High schoolers are prone to make fun of the sounds of names – and “Grim Key” would leave them to vulnerable to any number of stupid taunts from kids at rival schools.
  • Hubert Harrison. Wikipedia tells us he was a “West Indian-American writer, orator, educator, critic, and race and class conscious political activist and radical internationalist based in Harlem, New York. He was described by activist A. Philip Randolph as ’The father of Harlem radicalism’ and by the historian Joel Augustus Rogers as ‘the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.’” Toward the end of his relatively short life (he died after surgery at the age of 44), he backed separatist movements and called for the founding of "a Negro state" in the US. Mainly NY-based, I did not see any indication of a particular connection to DC.
  • Shirley Horn, American jazz singer and pianist. Wikipedia says “She collaborated with many jazz greats including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Toots Thielemans, Ron Carter, Carmen McRae, Wynton Marsalis and others.” She was born and raised in Washington, DC. Here’s one of her best-known songs:
  • Edna Jackson was the first African American to be hired as a teacher at Wilson (1954). While beloved by many of her students (almost all of whom were white), she also endured much ill-treatment from racists and bigots. Former students are the ones who have advanced her name as a fitting replacement for Woodrow Wilson. She has no Wikipedia page.
  • Mary Jackson, one of the “Hidden Figures” celebrated by the movie of that name. An American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (which later became NASA), she worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for most of her career. Just a couple of weeks ago, NASA named its headquarters building after her.
  • Marsha P. Johnson was an American gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen. Known as an outspoken advocate for gay rights, Johnson was one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. Johnson has been honored on a plaque at the Stonewall National Monument in New York City, is a prominent figure in several murals depicting gay history, and on February 20, 2020 had the East River Park in Brooklyn rededicated as the Marsha P. Johnson Park, at a ceremony conducted by Governor Cuomo. Also, she was featured in the June 30 2020 Google Doodle.
  • Margaret Lawrence, pediatrician and child psychiatrist –  “the first African-American woman to become a psychoanalyst in the United States, according to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where her career began” –quoted from her New York Times obituary. She died in December 2019 at the age of 105.
  • James Lincoln Beill – I came up totally blank on this one. Either the name is spelled wrong, or he never did anything famous enough to rate a Wikipedia entry.
  • Dovey Johnson Roundtree, was “an African-American civil rights activist, ordained minister, and attorney. Her 1955 victory before the Interstate Commerce Commission in the first bus desegregation case to be brought before the ICC resulted in the only explicit repudiation of the "separate but equal" doctrine in the field of interstate bus transportation by a court or federal administrative body.” (Wikipedia). Lived and worked most of her adult life in Washington, DC, where she was the first African American woman to be admitted to the DC Bar. Couldn’t find any schools named for her. Seems like she’s overdue for some posthumous honors. I see a bit of a handicapm though, in the form of a name like “Dovey Johnson Roundtree.” Doesn’t roll off the tongue – or combine all that well with “Tigers.” Would current Wilson football players want to be known as the Roundtree Tigers? At formal ceremonies, when the full name of the school is invoked, will “Dovey Johnson Roundtree” get the respect it deserves?
  • Assata Shakur. Still alive. Also, a fugitive with multiple criminal convictions, including murder. Wikipedia tells us that “Assata Olugbala Shakur is a former member of the Black Liberation Army, who was convicted of being an accomplice in the first-degree murder of State Trooper Werner Foerster during a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973.” So….no.
  • Lucy Diggs Slowe was “The first black woman to serve as Dean of Women at any American university and the first Dean of Women at Howard University. She was one of the original sixteen founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the first sorority founded by African-American women.” (Wikipedia.) She has a dorm named in her honor at Howard, and she used to have a DC elementary school named for her, but it closed in 2008 and was re-opened as a charter school named for Mary McLeod Bethune. There is a historic marker for her at her hometown in Berryville, VA.    
  • Mary Church Terrell was “one of the first African-American women to earn a college degree, and became known as a national activist for civil rights and suffrage,” according to Wikipedia, which goes on to note that: “she was the first African-American woman in the United States to be appointed to the school board of a major city, serving in the District of Columbia from 1895 until 1906. Terrell was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1909).” She’s had two elementary schools named in her honor: one in SE Washington, that was closed in the school consolidations of 2013; the other in New Orleans that was so damaged by Hurricane Katrina, it had to be torn down. She’s been on a postage stamp, and her house in LeDroit Park is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Oberlin College named its main library, “The Mary Church Terrell Main Library.” Good enough?
  • Elizabeth Proctor Thomas, a free woman of color and a farmer who owned the property that became Fort Stevens, the key fort protecting the capital of the Union throughout the Civil War. Her land is now part of the African American Heritage Trail, maintained by the US Park Service, and her story is preserved and presented to the public at the Fort.
  • William Monroe Trotter. Wikipedia says he was “a newspaper editor and real estate businessman based in Boston, Massachusetts, and an activist for African-American civil rights. He was an early opponent of the accommodationist race policies of Booker T. Washington, and in 1901 founded the Boston Guardian, an independent African-American newspaper he used to express that opposition….. In 1914 he had a highly publicized meeting with President Woodrow Wilson, in which he protested Wilson's introduction of segregation into the federal workplace.” Poetic justice, if Wilson’s name were removed and replaced with Trotter’s! But, think…. “The Trotter Tigers.” Would high school athletes like that? Would their rivals talk about "getting the Trots"? Besides, Trotter is very much a Boston-based figure, using his newspaper to promote his causes. Boston is where you will find an elementary school bearing his name, where his house has historic landmark status, and the research institute for the study of black history and black culture at the University of Massachusetts is named for him.
  • Ralph W. Tyler. I read through the entire Wikipedia entry, which begins: "Ralph W. Tyler (1902–1994) was an American educator who worked in the field of assessment and evaluation. He served on or advised a number of bodies that set guidelines for the expenditure of federal funds and influenced the underlying policy of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Tyler chaired the committee that developed the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)." Even after I got to the end of a relatively brief but still tedious account of his life, I could not figure out why anyone proposed renaming Wilson High School after him. But if you think you know what makes him worthy of that honor, please....don’t enlighten me! It just does not sound that interesting.
  • Gladys West. She’s an American mathematician, who is “known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth, and her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS)." (Wikipedia.) And she is still alive.
  • Harriet Wilson – the first African American of any gender to publish a novel on the North American continent. “Her novel ‘Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black’ was published anonymously in 1859 in Boston, Massachusetts, and was not widely known. The novel was discovered in 1982 by the scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who documented it as the first African-American novel published in the United States.” (Wikipedia.) There’s a monument to her in New Hampshire’s Bicentennial Park. She lived and worked in New England all her life. The main benefit to choosing Harriet Wilson is that the school could keep all the signs and paraphernalia that say “Wilson.”
  • Jackie Wilson, American soul singer and performer. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Jackie Wilson No. 69 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. His biggest hit was “Lonely Teardrops” which reached number 7 on the pop charts and number 1 on the R&B charts in 1958. On the plus side, name the school for Jackie Wilson and you can keep the name Wilson on things. On the decidedly minus side, he seems not to have been a very nice guy. Singer Patti Labelle in her autobiography accuses him of sexually assaulting her. Wilson also got into a number of  violent scrapes over the years, the worst of which ended with his near-fatal shooting by a girlfriend who caught him with another woman. No one was charged in the incident.
  • Jud Wilson, “nicknamed 'Boojum,' was an American third baseman, first baseman, and manager in Negro League baseball. He played for the Baltimore Black Sox, the Homestead Grays, and the Philadelphia Stars between 1922 and 1945. Wilson was known for possessing a unique physique, a quick temper, and outstanding hitting skills. One of the Negro leagues' most powerful hitters, his career batting average of .351 ranks him among the top five players. Wilson was posthumously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, one of 17 black Negro League or pre-Negro League players inducted that year.” (Wikipedia.) Although he’s yet another nominee with the last name of Wilson, there’s not a whole lot of DC connection there. He played for teams in Baltimore and Philadelphia; still, he did retire to Washington, DC, and he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • Teddy Wilson was a jazz pianist of the Big Band Era – played with the greats, including Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. But I don’t see one bit of a DC connection. He grew up in Austin Texas. He studied music at the Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama. He lived most of his adult life in New York City or one of its suburbs – Hillside, New Jersey or New Britain, Connecticut (where he was living at the time of his death in 1986. There are other, more relevant Wilsons – if that's  the way we want to go.
  • William J. Wilson is an American sociologist and Harvard professor and author of works primarily dealing with race and class issues. From Wikipedia: “Laureate of the National Medal of Science, he served as the 80th President of the American Sociological Association, was a member of numerous national boards and commissions. He identified the importance of neighborhood effects and demonstrated how limited employment opportunities and weakened institutional resources exacerbated poverty within American inner-city neighborhoods.” And he’s a Wilson. But he’s also still alive.

4. No Special Connection to DC: Only three names fell into this category but not any other:
  • Chief Kicking Bear. Wikipedia says: “Oglala Lakota who became a band chief of the Miniconjou Lakota Sioux. He fought in several battles with his brother, Flying Hawk and first cousin, Crazy Horse." There is one episode that has to do with Washington, DC: “In March 1896, Kicking Bear traveled to Washington, D.C. as one of three Sioux delegates taking grievances to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He made his feelings known about the drunken behavior of traders on the reservation, and asked that Native Americans have more ability to make their own decisions. While in Washington, Kicking Bear agreed to have a life mask made of himself. The mask was to be used as the face of a Sioux warrior to be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. “ OK, so his face is on display in the museum here. Wouldn’t it be better to return the mask of his face to his people in South Dakota? And shouldn’t that be the place where there’s a school that bears his name?
  • James Baldwin. The novelist/essayist is definitely having a revival, one that was kicked off in 2017 with the release of the Netflix documentary about his life: "I Am Not Your Negro." Whether writing pointedly about Black rage or tenderly about gay relationships, James Baldwin is still very much a man for our times – now perhaps more than ever. While he's now been gaining honors and attention that he should have had when he was alive, he's still rightly seen much more a man of the world than as a man of our city. If he's associated with any specific places, it's New York City....and of course, Paris.
  • Nina Simone – world renowned singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist. “Her music spanned a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.” (Wikipedia.) She grew up in North Carolina and then her family moved to Philadelphia. She got her career start by playing the piano in cocktail lounges in Atlantic City. She became a civil rights activist and performed many pieces written to protest injustice and racial discrimination. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, she left the US, and lived  abroad for the rest of her life. Countries of residence included Liberia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and France (she died at her home in Aix-en-Provence). Her ashes, as she directed, were scattered in several African countries. I did not see Washington, DC mentioned even once in her Wikipedia entry. 

5. Can of worms/mixed legacy. Taking into account the not-so-good along with whatever they did that is worthy of honor, we grapple with:
  • Marion Barry Jr. was convicted of tax evasion, in addition to the infamous “bitch set me up” arrest for cocaine use. Anyway, he’s already got a larger-than-lifesize statue in front of the District Building. 
  • Petey Greene, talk show host, advocate for prison reform and racial justice, he is someone who turned his life around after conviction for armed robbery and a long time spent at the Lorton Reformatory. He went from being a DJ on the prison radio station to having his own show, “Rappin’ with Petey Greene” on commercial radio in DC, and then hosting his own TV talk show, "Petey Greene's Washington," from 1976 to 1982. That’s where you’ll find  a lot of stuff that you really don’t want today’s kids to emulate. To take just one example: he invited “shock jock” Howard Stern on the show and they both thought it was a funny to have Stern appear in blackface. Not sure what other antics could turn up on those old 70s and 80s videos, but it they move to name the school after him, I'm afraid we might find out. 
  • Marvin Gaye. He was born and brought up in Washington, DC, and attended schools here, including Spingarn and Cardozo High Schools. But he dropped out, enlisted in the Air Force, and doesn’t seem to have kept up any connections with our city after that. He had a string of huge chart-toppers, including “What’s Going on?" and "Sexual Healing." But he came to a terrible end – shot to death by his own father, while trying to stop his father from attacking his mother in his own house. This is a compelling story, a human tragedy….but is it the sort of thing we want our children to learn when they research the person for whom their high school is named?
  • Wilson Pickett. This time the name Wilson comes in the form of a first name. But there’s little or no DC connection for the singer/pop star who was born in Alabama, grew up and recorded in Memphis, Muscle Shoals, AL, and Motown, and lived in towns like Englewood, NJ and Reston, VA. Even if the lack of DC connection doesn’t rule him out, then his multiple drunk driving convictions will do the trick (including one incident in 1992, when he struck (but did not kill) a 92 year old pedestrian. He also was charged at least twice with assaulting his live-in girlfriend. Not exactly role model behavior.
  • Vincent Reed was the chancellor of the DC public school system from March 18, 1976 – December 31, 1980 – and before that he was the principal of Wilson HS. His tenure as the head of DCPS was stormy – marred by a teacher strike, the loss of 700 teacher jobs, and frequent, sharp clashes with the school board over his quest to create an elite academic high school, which ultimately became Benjamin Banneker (something that was continuously blocked during his time as Chancellor). Vincent Reed still has his fervent champions – but if the school were to be named for him, we’d be sure to see all his old detractors come out out of the woodwork.
  • Paul Robeson, world-famous singer, actor, civil rights activist – a towering figure in his time – and also one of the most craven apologists of the Stalin’s regime ever to return from a Soviet-guided tour. Among his honors is the 1952 International Stalin Prize. If the untold millions of Stalin’s victims could speak, they would cry out to us not to honor Robeson in this way.

6. DWEMJudge Skelly Wright is the only one of the nominees who fits this category. He was a prominent federal judge who issued a landmark ruling against "tracking" in schools, which he found had compromised the "right to equal educational opportunity" for the District's poor and disadvantaged (1967). Judge Wright is also remembered for a 1972 ruling barring eviction by landlords as a retaliatory action against tenants who raised housing code violations to authorities. Though often on the side of the dispossessed, Judge Wright is still another DWEM – and thus in an over-represented category when it comes to honors, statues, and commemorative names on our buildings.

Now that we’ve knocked off 57 names from the list of nominations, who's left? Ten names – a nice round number. Let's take them in alphabetical order:
  1. Marian Anderson. Her great Washington story is of  the time she was barred from singing at DAR Constitution Hall due to her race – and Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to sing for everyone from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And what a glorious concert it was! Although she's been on a postage stamp, and she's got two buildings associated with her life on the National Register of Historic Places (her house in Philadelphia and her recording studio in Connecticut), she would certainly be an inspiring figure to name the school after.
  2. Julian Bond, a longtime resident of Chevy Chase, DC, he was both a national civil rights leader and a local leader/statehood advocate. He already has one small memorial – a bench bearing his name, on Connecticut Avenue. Naming the school for him would be even better.,
  3. Chuck Brown was known as the "Godfather of DC Go-Go" -- the city's own unique style of music. There is already a Chuck Brown Park (20th and Franklin Streets, NE) and a Chuck Brown Day that takes place on a Saturday around the middle of August – but Chuck Brown HS would probably be a popular choice with the kids.
  4. Fannie Lou Hamer – Legendary African American civil rights leader, who braved arrest and police beatings for the right to vote. Her life story is one of enormous courage – and why it hasn't been made into a big budget Hollywood biopic, I don't know. But certainly it's a thrilling and dramatic story, and definitely one that high school kids should study. Which they might well do, if they went to Fannie Lou Hamer High.
  5. Richard and Mildred Loving. The married couple, barred from living together due to a racist law in Virginia that made interracial marriage a crime, found refuge in DC. But they always made the point that they were country people, who were forced to live in the city, and as soon as they won their landmark case at the Supreme Court, they were able to move back to the community they loved – in rural Virginia. In other words, they were not great fans of this town! Great people, though! I like the idea of naming a high school for the Loving couple; still, they might have been even more honored to have a school named for them in their own home town.
  6. Yarrow Mamout was a freedman, a businessman, a resident of Georgetown in the early 1800s. He was born in Guinea, Africa where he was kidnapped and enslaved, and shipped to America in 1752. He achieved his freedom at the age of 60, and became so successful that he had his portrait painted by Charles Wilson Peale – and this painting now hangs in the Peabody Room of the Georgetown Branch Library. Hyper local! Hyper historical!
  7. Hilda Mason was a DC Council Member, and before that, a member of the DC Board of Education. But she is best remembered as a founding member of the DC Statehood Party and a tireless advocate for the movement to make DC the 51st state. The Law Library at UDC is named for Hilda Mason and her husband, Charles Mason, but I was surprised to learn that there is not a school named in her honor. It's long overdue!
  8. Bayard Rustin – African American civil rights hero, labor leader – and far ahead of his time – an out-of-the-closet gay man and advocate for gay rights. While he never lived in DC, he was here time and again to organize marches and campaigns and work for equality and social justice. He has a school named for him in his hometown of West Chester, PA, and there's the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice in Princeton, NJ – but it's really a little shocking to learn there's nothing named for him in the Nation's Capital.
  9. Walter Washington was the first elected African American mayor of DC – and yes, they did name that great behemoth of a convention center for him. But it's a giant white elephant. A high school would be a warmer and far more fitting tribute to our first mayor under Home Rule. 
  10. I'm saving the best for last (OK, he comes last, alphabetically) – but let me say, this one is the perfect choice. It's John Wilson, who as chairman of the DC city council wrote DC's human rights law, which is a model for human rights legislation around the country and around the world. Before he was on the Council, he led the push for Home Rule. If you're thinking, hasn't he been honored enough by having his name on the District Building?...the answer is no. We all still call it The District Building, don't we? I don't think that really counts for much. Anyway, what makes him the top contender is not just what he did for DC but what he brings to the renaming of Wilson High School – and that is, of course, the ability to keep calling it Wilson....but this time, we've got a good and honorable man who did right by the people of this city. What more could you want?

What more? Well, I won't end here, because there is actually is something more that some people have asked for – and that is an end to all this fine-tooth combing over so many candidates' characters and histories (just as I've done above). You see, everyone is flawed. They all have skeletons in their closets. And the way to deal with that (some say) is to stop naming buildings after flawed people. Honor the site, and the whole community around it. 

There are two ways to do that. The first is to name the school for the current name of the community, Tenleytown. Call it Tenleytown High. It's simple. It's accurate. Why would anyone object to that?

The second solution is to acknowledge the history of the site, by choosing the name of the African American community that was there before there was a Wilson High. It was called Reno City, and it formed around Fort Reno. The community had its own school for African American children, the Jesse Reno School, built in 1903. You can read about it here: In the 1930s when there was an influx of many white, middle class families, the  government chose the Reno City site to build a a new, whites-only school – what would become Wilson High – and so all the Black families were forced out to make way for the new building. You can read about that here: And you can make the case, with a great deal of historical justification, that the fair and proper thing to do would be to restore the original name of the community –  as well as give a nod to the current name of the park across the street –  and rename Wilson: Fort Reno High School.

How about it?

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays (or in this case, in the wee hours of Sunday morning).   

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Get Out! ....On Second Thought, Stay In! For the Fourth of July

Wikimedia Creative Commons

by Peggy Robin

Normally, my "Get Out!" column on the Thursday before the Fourth of July would spell out the holiday details for you, giving helpful tips about attendance at the festivities on the National Mall – you know, Metro schedule changes, street closings, parade times, entry checkpoint locations, and more.

This time, you’re on your own. These are NOT normal times, and instead of saying “Get out and enjoy the fireworks," I’m saying, "Better to be safe and stay home." It doesn't matter how protective your mask is -- you'll still be at increased risk as you pass through one of a few narrow checkpoints, where thousands of other people –any one of whom could be a "super-spreader"– will have passed through before you. 

Once you are inside the secure area, you may lay down your picnic blanket and stake out a buffer zone well over six feet away from any other visitor group – but how will you maintain it? There are bound to be troupes of teenagers, or college kids, or beer buddies, or any number of other odd collections of humanity, who will pass your way, carelessly invading your safety perimeter. And you can bet they will be wearing their masks down around their chins -- that's if they haven't removed them entirely. Be prepared to yell at them....although that will most likely result in people yelling right back at you -- and yelling, as we know, is a prime way that airborne droplets can fly the farthest. 

Why expose yourself? You are not going to have a good time.

Now, I have always loved a well-choreographed fireworks display, and I know that the TV screen can't capture the sensations of being there on the ground -- but this year you have got to contemplate much more than a half an hour of splendor while the night sky is lit up with cascades of colorful sparks -- waterfalls, haloes and starbursts. This year the experience you need to contemplate at length is what it would feel like to be hooked up to a ventilator -- and that would be something lasting far longer than that half-hour of fireworks you enjoyed. Not a worthwhile trade-off for anyone, to my mind. 

Still, if you are bound and determined not to miss the annual event, let me send you to this article in Washingtonian, which will tell you what you need to know to attend: Once you've read that, you might also want to read this piece in DCist about the show, which includes some sage advice from Mayor Bowser, urging DC residents to stay home:

Oh, and just one more thing about this year's holiday, that needs to be noted. Even if you do stay home, you are bound to experience all the noise of a live fireworks display – and it will doubtless go on for hours. That’s because – for reasons I can’t begin to fathom – lots of kids and maybe even some adults, have been setting off fireworks, doing it every night, for the past several weeks. On the fourth of July, they’re bound to be out in larger numbers than ever, in every neighborhood of the city, and the bangs and pops may go on till dawn. The Washington Post reported on this problem – see –  but it's not just here  in DC; in every major city, people are setting off fireworks, night after night, with no sign of stopping (see 

Here's hoping that the official fireworks holiday on the Fourth will serve as the grande finale of all this ear-shattering uproar. But given the way that things are trending these days, I have to tell you, I am not optimistic.

Even so, I wish you and yours a safe, healthy, and if at all possible, peaceful Fourth of July.

The Get Out!/Stay In! column is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays.  

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Still Life with Robin: A Dust-up over a Dust Storm

by Peggy Robin  

Want a bit of good news? The Great Sahara Dust Cloud or Dust Plume (depending on whether you’re reading Capital Weather Gang or watching CNN) has given us a miss. 

It arrived on American soil and is now blanketing the Southeast, and parts of the Caribbean, and even stretching westward 
over Texas and Oklahoma, but our skies have remained unhazed. 

Perhaps we will get something of an 
enhanced sunset tonight, if there's enough of an increase in dust particles in our 
atmosphere to trap the sun's rays and make the sky glow orange as the sun goes down. But we’ve been spared the choking haze that is going on right now to our south. Perhaps the silver lining in that part of the country is that the increased dust in the air might be what it takes to get people in Texas, Florida, and other states with skyrocketing Covid transmission rates to start wearing protective face masks.  

In this good-news-bad-news situation, you can count on me to find something offbeat and unimportant to highlight – and then complain about. I won’t let you down. I have managed to find the trivial but irritating nugget in this dust-up to get me started. It falls into the “what’s in a name?” category of issues. Many in the media -- CBSABCFoxNews (of course!), even DCist – have dubbed it “The Godzilla Dust Cloud” or “Godzilla Storm.” I find that so inappropriate. You don’t tag a lung-damaging, dangerous phenomenon of nature with the name of a pop-culture monster. Especially not one that comes from Japan! Look at the map -- Japan's six thousand miles away from the Sahara! Okay, calling it the Godzilla Storm is nowhere near as racist as calling the coronavirus the “Kung Flu” – but surely, you can see there's a certain shared mentality. And it's not a good one.  

Why has no one else called this out? Too many more important things to worry about, I suppose. Well, that’s what I’m here for. Everyone, stop it at once!   

Of course, there does need to be a better alternative -- some handy, easily memorable term for this phenomenon. I concede that. “Sahara Dust Plume” is maybe a bit unwieldy. Great Sahara Dust Cloud is no better. Even if you reduce it to its initials, GSDC, that's not especially memorable or evocative.  

There would be no problem is this dust cloud could be called a haboob. But it can't: “haboob” is a term with a very specific meaning – and if a weather forecaster tells you that a haboob is coming, and you don’t know what that is, you will look it up and remember what you learn. (If you want to know the difference between a haboob and a Sahara Dust Plume, go here:     

As for what would be a good shorthand term for a Sahara Dust Storm – it is formed out of the SAL (Sahara Air Layer) so the obvious choice would be a "SALstorm." And then I suppose we could use the familiar form, Sally, as a handy, short but memorable term. A Sally over North America is not something that happens often enough to need different identifying names for each one, like hurricanes. Just Sally should do. Or maybe not. There's an argument to be made for giving up the use of nicknames for deadly weather phenomenon. But that's a separate issue.  

All I'm asking now is for people to stop calling it Godzilla. Because this -- ! -- is NOT a dust storm!  

And that’s the good news!  

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.   

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Get Out! The Cleveland Park Listserv Events Column Is BACK (sort of....)

Cathedral Grounds
by Peggy Robin

Two weeks ago,  I said that the "Get Out!" events column would return to its usual Thursday time slot whenever there were ten in-person events taking place in Cleveland Park or in a relatively close-by neighborhood -- OR whenever the DC Public Library system started taking its events out of cyberspace and moving them back indoors, using any of the the library’s many public meeting rooms. (The events column was populated in a typical week by at least 50% public library-hosted events.)

We haven’t reached either of those benchmarks – but just like many an antsy, impatient, cabin-fevered shut-in, I’ve decided to jump the gun and rush out with what’s available now. Here we go:

Adams Morgan will turn 18th Street into outdoor pedestrian plaza this weekend (pilot program). has announced the following: 

18th Street will be closed to vehicle traffic from Columbia Road to Kalorama Road on the following days:

Friday, June 26: 3pm – Midnight
Saturday, June 27: 8am – Midnight
Sunday, June 28: 8am – Midnight

There will be a 20-foot pedestrian pathway down the center of the street that will also serve as emergency access. Businesses will be allowed to expand their operations (restaurant table service and retail sales) into the roadway directly in front of their businesses using the distancing guidelines published by DC Health. They will also be able to utilize sidewalk space in front of adjacent properties with written permission from that property owner or business owner.

[Parking and drop-off/pickup details follow.]

Businesses should plan to have some sort of rope, planter, or other means to separate their extended patio area from their neighbors’. Businesses are responsible for providing tables, chairs, and other fixtures and securing them when not in use in such a way that they can’t be utilized by pedestrians. Furniture should be brought in or secured one hour before the end of the closure.

National Cathedral Grounds, Gardens, Walking Paths. Read about walkable outdoor areas here: You will need to be careful, as some walking paths (the Bishop’s Garden, for example) are very narrow and you may need to wait for a while at a safe distance to let others pass.

Christian Heurich House and Museum – their garden will soon be open to the public - reservations required:   
The Heurich House Museum’s historic Castle Garden is opening on Tuesday, June 30th, in a new, socially distant format. [The museum itself still remains closed for now.] Visitors can reserve a garden “pod” to enjoy the summer weather, hang out with friends, or use our free WiFi to get some work done. The garden will be open by reservation only every Tuesday through Thursday from 11am to 5pm. A pod is a specific area of mowed lawn in the garden designated for your group only - we have measured them out so they are at least 6 feet from other pods and the common walkway. Some pods contain shade and some are in full sun. Size varies, with some pods accommodating up to 4 visitors, while others are large enough for 6 (refer to pod map below). Although some pods may include a bench, we encourage visitors to bring a blanket or lawn chair. Reservations are available in 2 shifts: 11am-2pm and 2pm-5pm. Guests are welcome to reserve multiple shifts. Outside food and beverage is allowed, but please clean up after yourself. (Food in, food out!) *NO BATHROOMS AVAILABLE* Reservations are free. Online reservations only.

Dumbarton House House Museum is reopening! We will be open to museum and NSCDA members only July 1 and July 2. We will be closed July 3-5 for the holiday weekend and open fully to the public on July 7! Timed tickets and masks will be required. Visit our admissions page for full details. We will be open to museum and NSCDA members only on July 1 and July 2. We will be closed July 3-5 for the holiday weekend and open fully to the public starting July 7!

OK, this last one is not exactly close to Cleveland Park....but I'm getting a bit desperate here! And it's well worth the the Glenstone Art Museum and Sculpture Garden - now operating as an outdoor-only experience – scheduled visits only. Limited capacity on visitor days (Thursday-Sunday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.). Please review our updated guidelines to prepare for your visit.

Please note: all visitors must be 12 or older and all minors (ages 12-17) must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Tickets are released at 10 a.m. every Monday in two-week increments.Read all you need to know at:

Next week.....? Is it possible that there will be a few of what the Get Out! column used to have -- festivals and bazaars and all that jazz? Or is it still a distant dream?
The Get Out! events column is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays.    

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Still Life with Robin: Put Her Up on a Pedestal

Joan of Arc
by Peggy Robin

Now that the statue of Confederate General Albert Pike has come down (see: for the dramatic footage), there’s an empty pedestal that needs a new figure to look up to.

And that figure should be female. In a city with statues in virtually every circle and square – hundreds and hundreds of figures in marble, bronze, or limestone – only 51 are female. And the majority of those are not specific individuals but are either the embodiment of concepts, such as “The Spirit of Justice” or “Grief” – or they are mythical creatures--angels or sea nymphs. For a run-down of all 51 of the outdoor female representations in the District of Columbia, see this CurbedDC article:   

What woman should we honor in place of the late, unlamented Pike, who bore arms against his country?

Well, we have enough of mounted warriors. We even have a fighting female on horseback among our 51 female statues -- it's the mounted Joan of Arc statue at Meridian Hill Park.

So I say let’s go with a poet or a writer. Here's an idea: Maya Angelou. Not only one of our most honored poets, but as a memoirist, a screenwriter, a playwright, a director, and chronicler of our times, something of a Renaissance woman -- one with over thirty honorary degrees. And one associated with an iconic moment in our city, too: chosen to read a poem at the inauguration of our first African American President, in front of the largest inaugural crowd ever assembled.

However, I think I would prefer to make the case for Odetta, the folk/protest singer and civil rights activist, hailed by Martin Luther King Jr. as "The Queen of American Folk Music.” Her performance of  "O Freedom" at the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, may rank right behind the “I Have a Dream Speech” as a highlight of that historic event. I should confess I have an ulterior motive for wanting to see Odetta turned into a monument. I was present at marches or rallies that featured Odetta as a singer, and would love to be able to point out her statue to my visiting friends and relatives and tell them, "I saw her perform live -- and it was electrifying!" 

But maybe we should go with the safest, most obvious choice. That would be Harriet Tubman. She was supposed to be the new face on the $20 bill but the Trump administration kept putting her off. Now they’re telling us it won't happen until 2030 at the earliest. Getting the Tubman statue up in place of the pulled-down figure of Albert Pike would be something that we in the District could do relatively quickly (I would hope!) -- and it would be a good way of signalling our displeasure at the way she’s been deprived of her place on the money. 

These are just three quick ideas. I'm sure there are many good other candidates. But whatever we do, we should do it quickly, not letting that pedestal stand empty for too long. Let's prove that there are far worthier figures to fill the space and give future generations an idea of what real heroism looks like to us. 
Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Stay In! And Celebrate Juneteenth

by Peggy Robin 

Tomorrow, June 19th, is Juneteenth, and unless you’ve been hidden away in a cave for the last month, you’ve learned that this date is a celebration of the end of slavery in the US -- a holiday or an official observance in 47 of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

When President Trump announced that he would be holding a political rally for his campaign in Tulsa on that historic date, there came such an outcry of protest from all across the political spectrum -- even from Republicans -- that in a rare reversal, Trump postponed the event for a day, pushing it forward to the 20th... but still set to take place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the largest and most horrific massacre of African Americans by a white mob ever to take place on American soil.

You may not have been taught about Juneteenth in your American history class. Your American history textbook may have informed you that January 1, 1863 was when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued – and your teacher might even have explained that this meant that the slaves were free. It didn’t. The Emancipation Proclamation applied only to enslaved persons in the South in areas under Union control – and Union troops at that point in the war were not doing so well. Even after the Civil War ended with General Lee’s surrender at Appomatox courthouse on April 9, 1865, slavery persisted in the US. Juneteenth marks the date - June 19, 1865 - of the arrival of Union troops to the (then) geographically isolated, remote state of Texas, and these Union forces were finally able to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln had declared more than two years before. About 250,000 enslaved persons in Texas became free -- two months and ten days AFTER the end of the Civil War.   

So Juneteenth reminds us that it’s not what’s in a proclamation or a law that brings about change; it matters whether the laws are enforced – equally and fairly – that makes the difference between slavery and freedom, justice and injustice. It’s a question of who’s there to do the enforcing, too. That’s something we’re still working on till this day….and something to demand on this Juneteenth of 2020.  

To learn more about Juneteenth and take part in DC Public Library’s virtual Juneteenth celebration, visit:   

To learn more about local marches, protests, observances, and educational sessions taking place in and around DC this weekend, go to: and also:

For everybody's well-being, please remember to wear your mask and observe social distancing!

Have a safe and meaningful Juneteenth!

The Stay In! column (formerly known as the "Get Out!" events column) is published on All Life Is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv on Thursdays.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Still LIfe with Robin: #free #free #free

Take this fiddle leaf tree....please!

by Peggy Robin

It’s hard to find the good in The Time of Coronavirus, but one thing I’ve noticed is that people are doing a LOT of housecleaning. And now more than ever, instead of trashing their unwanted goods, they are giving them away.

The explosion of the #free hashtag on the CP listserv started a few weeks before the April 1 official start of the emergency stay-at-home order. In twenty-plus years of moderating the listserv, I’ve never seen anything like it. Not just the quantity of goods given away, but the quality! We used to get a lot of heavy, old-style TVs – hard to find anyone who'd want them. And printers….people used to post: “It jams, but if you're good with electronics, maybe you could fix it.” That’s not really a generous act  – it’s more like a way to get someone to remove your old junk for free. We all know it’s likely to be cheaper to buy a brand new printer than to restock an old one with an ink cartridge – that's assuming, of course that you can get it unjammed.

But there’s been very little of that in the giveaway boom still underway. The last time a printer was donated (May 20), it was not only working fine, but it did high quality photo printing, too. And someone else gave away a printer/scanner/copier. Nothing wrong with that one, either.

I just made a quick survey of everything posted under the hashtag #free since the last week of March  (that's when I first noticed the big upswing in giveaways). Just take a look at the bonanza of stuff!

Easy chair; dining table; Ikea shelves; glass shelves; desks (at least two); end tables; clothing rack; sleep sofa; rocking chair; chest of drawers

Beds and Bedding
Loft bunk bed; king bed frame; full bed complete with headboard, mattress, and box spring; twin mattress; trundle bed; twin XL sheets; memory-foam mattress topper; 4-poster queen bed frame

Baby/Toddler/Children’s Items
Bags of baby items; 6-9 month clothing; play table; children’s chairs; wooden blocks; Fisher-Price toys; bags of Beanie Babies; doll furniture; puzzles & board games; crib mobile; umbrella stroller; Citi-mini stroller; Bob jogger; set of baby monitors; baby beach tent

Flagstones; a whole irrigation system; firewood; irises; fiddle leaf tree (needs care); mature holly bushes; hanging plant pots; cachepots; oregano plants; gas powered lawn mower (could use some work); push mower; rain barrel; fish for a fish pond

Office Supplies and Office Furniture
Three filing cabinets; office desk chair; boxes of office supplies; photo paper; toner cartridges; more boxes of office supplies

Electronics & Appliances
TVs; Blu-ray disc player; VHS player; turntable; lamps; toaster; laptop; 2 computer monitors; Xbox 360; Playstation 3; photo printer; printer/scanner/fax/copier combo; Technics speakers;  

Artwork, Books, Records & Media
Framed original art; foam-core mounted art; framed art posters; books and books galore; magazines; vinyl records; CDs and CD racks; VHS tapes (and yes, someone wanted them!)

Pet Stuff
Dog food; cat food; specialized pet food; dog bed; dog crate; faux sheepskin for dog bed; kitty litter

Sports/Play Equipment
Chin-up bar; cross country skis; girl's bike; kid's bike with training wheels; child bike seat; bike rack; toddler slide; sandbox with cover; Little Tikes playset; golf clubs (left-handed set); bocce balls; hula hoops; sled; foosball table; air hockey table; old tent (good for play, not camping)

Subway tiles; walker; mylar balloons; piano music; hearing aid batteries; luggage; rugs; bankers boxes; pleated air filters; fabric remnants & sequins; crafting supplies; microwave popcorn popper; juicer; knife block with knives; stick vacuum; styrofoam coolers, reusable ice packs; Subaru floor mats; vases galore; all sorts of picture frames; boxes of kitchen supplies; crockpot; muffin tins; Rubbermaid garbage cans; moving boxes and packing supplies out the wazoo!

If you’ve been inspired by any of the great giveaways above and are thinking you will do likewise and clear out some things, what I’m about to say may surprise you: You may not want to give them to random claimants on the listserv. Just yesterday, someone proposed a wonderful alternative: If you’ve got good quality clothing and household items, ask the Department of Human Services if they can use them at any of their short-term family residence buildings. A new one, called The Brooks, opened up in Ward Three just a couple of months ago. Here’s the contact information for the DHS official who can follow-up and arrange for a pickup of your items, if they fit the bill:

Scott Sibley, DHS
Cell: 202-313-8758
Office: 202-545-3168 [scott.sibley @ dc dot gov]

What about things that you’re not sure are wanted anywhere? Like some of the items listed above: the sequins, for example, or the mylar balloons. What about those bocce balls? Or the “faux sheepskin” for a dog bed? (Is it true that a Cleveland Park dog will only sleep on a REAL sheepskin bed?) Want to find out if there’s a home out there for your unusual giveaway item? Just send it to – and be sure to give it the hashtag #free. You’ll soon find out!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.