A debate is brewing over the renaming of Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in D.C. It is not the first, nor it will be the last of such debates among local residents over the more than 150 D.C. facilities under renaming consideration. The initiative is the result of a study by D.C. Facilities and Commemorative Expressions (DCFACES), a working group established by Mayor Muriel Bowser in July to ensure District-owned facilities are named for individuals who reflect “contemporary D.C. values,” according to the group’s executive summary.
Renaming the lower portion of 16th Street to Black Lives Matter Plaza was a direct result and a noteworthy beginning of an effort sparked by the unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., and numerous other Black lives lost to police killings. While statues were being dismantled, Bowser brought together eight working group members to research the histories and make recommendations for eligible facilities and individuals for whom they could be renamed.
“Our decision-making prism focused on key disqualifying histories, including participation in slavery, systemic racism, mistreatment of, or actions that suppressed equality for, persons of color, women and LGBTQ communities and violation of the DC Human Right[s] Act,” wrote Beverly Perry and Richard Reyes-Gavilan, chairs of the working group, in a letter to the mayor.
Despite the discomfort and unreadiness some may have over the changes soon to come, we believe this to be a long-overdue opportunity to give honor to those who gave their all to the District, including Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, founder of The Washington Informer and United Black Fund, and Wilhelmina J. Rolark who served 16 years on the D.C. Council and whose legislation benefits District residents today.
But we’re talking about Wilson Senior High School, named after the former U.S. president with a racist legacy. Of the individuals for whom the school will be renamed, our vote is for Hilda Howland Mason — a teacher, counselor and administrator in the D.C. Public Schools for 19 years. Mason, the self-proclaimed “Grandmother of the World,” was elected to the Board of Education from Ward 4 from 1972 — 1977 and later appointed to the D.C. Council to fulfill the unexpired term of Julius Hobson Sr. of the Statehood Party. A forceful Statehood advocate, beloved across the District’s eight wards, she was later elected to the at-large Council seat in a special election in July 1977, later winning reelection four more times.
Hilda Mason is a forgotten D.C. heroine whose contributions to the District should be taught and whose legacy should not be forgotten. While DCFACES’s efforts are commendable, it appears that an extra effort must be made to ensure that women are given equal consideration for renaming opportunities in D.C., as well.