A revised plaque highlighting the nearly century-long provenance of Washington-Liberty – née “Washington-Lee” – High School has again received thumbs up from the Arlington government’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB).
The body on June 15 agreed unanimously – and, apparently, with finality – to support the proposal, five years after placement of the marker it initially had approved on school grounds was rejected by the School Board.
With the latest HALRB approval (agreed to on a 7-0 vote among those in attendance), the measure now goes back to the school’s alumni group to address the final proposed revisions, and then to the School Board, which will have the final say on the placement.
The vote sets the stage for installation of a “definitely well-needed marker,” said HALRB vice chair Omari Davis, who was chairing the meeting.
If the action seemed to have a familiar ring to it, it was indeed similar to an August 2021 vote taken by the historical-affairs group, which supported the concept but requested some wordsmithing of the plaque’s original verbiage.
“We’ve tweaked the original design with as minimal changes as we could possibly make, in hopes that the revised marker will be approved as-is,” said Dean Fleming, who presented the revisions to the HALRB on June 15.
Fleming almost got his wish.
The revised wording was “much improved from the last version we saw,” said HALRB member Gerald Laporte.
“It really reads much better,” said Laporte, who nonetheless had some editorial suggestions that are being left in the hands of the alumni group to follow up on.
(The approval resolution “leaves things a little bit open, but captures the sentiment” of support for the design, Davis said.)
As part of his remarks, Fleming said the alumni organization would be open to creation of a companion marker, which would focus on the civil-rights era as it related to the high school and the broader Arlington community.
“It’s a story that should stand on its own,” rather than be incorporated into the original marker, Fleming said, proposing that it be placed in tandem with the first marker near the entry vestibule.
“There’s enough space,” he said.
The idea for two markers gained traction with the HALRB members, and, if one wished to guess, would presumably be a requirement imposed by School Board in order to secure approval of the first marker. While the design for a second marker would have to be brought to the HALRB for review, the initial marker “does not need to come back,” Davis said.
The original marker had been approved for installation in 2017. But as part of the contentious community battle over renaming the high school to eradicate reference to Robert E. Lee, coupled with national political division in the wake of unrest in Charlottesville that summer, school-system leaders refused to allow the original marker to be placed on school grounds.
Arlington voters in 1922 approved a bond referendum to pay for Arlington’s first modern new high school, whose original building – a three-story Beaux-Arts structure long since demolished – opened in 1925 and graduated its first student in 1926, remaining segregated until court-ordered integration came to Virginia in 1959.
That 1922 date of bond approval for the school would seem to make 2022 the appropriate date for placement of the marker. Whether it can make it through the remaining procedural, casting and installation hurdles in time remains an open question.