Seven Montgomery schools are named after enslavers. That could change.z

Nicole Asbury Washington Post November 29th 2023

On the 1790 Census, Col. Zadok Magruder reported he had 26 people enslaved on his property. Now, about 200 years after his death, Montgomery County Public Schools could change the name of the high school named after him when it opened in 1970.F

A petition filed in February by people in the Magruder High School community says the school’s namesake “does not meet the acceptable criteria for a school name” and cites Magruder’s history as an enslaver.

The unwanted legacies of slavery and racism live on in the names of schools across the country.Several schools across the Washington region have shed namesakes in recent years. In 2021, the D.C. Council voted to rename Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest Washington to Jackson-Reed High School. Several residents sought to change its name because of Wilson’s discriminatory policies that led to the displacement of some of the city’s Black residents. In October, the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia voted to begin the process of renaming W.T. Woodson High School, which is named after an early schools superintendent who opposed school desegregation.ADVERTISING

And the Montgomery school system has done it before too. In 2019, community members and the County Council president called for Col. E. Brooke Lee Middle School in Silver Spring to be renamed. Lee was a large-scale developer and skilled politician who attached his properties to racially restrictive covenants that limited who could live there. The school was later renamed Odessa-Shannon Middle School, in recognition of the first Black woman to be elected to the school board.

After the county school system received the request about Magruder, it sent a survey to several families and alumni asking whether the name should change. It hired the consulting group Coaction Collective to run six virtual and in-person forums in which people shared their perspectives of the school’s name. Those sessions ended earlier in November. A report is expected to be delivered to the school board before the winter holiday season.

Naming rights — and wrongs: Montgomery students reveal uncomfortable truths

Born in 1729, Magruder became an influential figure during the American Revolution, according to a report from Montgomery History. Hewas a part of the group that wrote a 1774 proclamation called the Hungerford Resolves in support of Boston when the British cut off the city’s port after the Boston Tea Party.

“It was quite early revolutionary sentiment,” said Ralph Buglass, a volunteer researcher for Montgomery History and the writer of the Montgomery History report.

Magruder went on to serve as a colonel in the Maryland militia during the Revolution. When Montgomery County was formed in 1776, Magruder organized its government with six others. He is considered a founding father of the county.

Like other influential county colonial figures, Magruder was an enslaver. When he was about 20 years old, he inherited 600 acres of land and “one Negro man and one Negro boy,” according to Buglass’s report. The 1790 Census is the last known census in which Magruder reported he enslaved 26 people before he died in 1811, Buglass said. Only 25 other county residents had as many or more people enslaved.

“The vast majority of the holdings were one or two people,” Buglass said in an interview. “When we’re talking about Magruder owning 26 … those were exceptions.”

Buglass added that at its height, about 4 in 10 of the county’s population were enslaved.Share this articleShare

Magruder’s family home, called “The Ridge,” is located on Muncaster Road about three miles north of where the high school in Derwood stands today. It is the only school in the United States to be named after Zadok Magruder, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. (Magruder Elementary in Williamsburg, Va., is named after Confederate Gen. John Bankhead Magruder.)

Derwood is a diverse community. At Magruder High School, the student body is 42 percent Hispanic/Latino, 21 percent White and 18 percent Black.

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Montgomery school officials began reviewing all of their current school names to see if they were “appropriate candidates for school facilities” in 2019 while facing pressure to rename Lee Middle School, according to a memorandum from the school board.

A report by a committee of school system employees, Montgomery County historians and student researchers from the University of Maryland at Baltimore County found six schools were named after enslavers: Magruder, Thomas S. Wootton and Richard Montgomery high schools in Rockville; Montgomery Blair High and Francis Scott Key Middle schools in Silver Spring; and John Poole Middle School in Poolesville. Buglass has since identified one other school, Julius West Middle School in Rockville, making the total seven. The other six school communities haven’t started a name change process.

Mark Simonson, who is White and a parent of a junior at Magruder High, learned about Magruder’s history for the first time during an October 2022 Zoom session hosted by the school system. The session was scheduled to educate parents about the renaming process. Simonson recalled listening to Buglass speak and show the 1790 Census.

“It was just one of those things that really resonated with me,” said Simonson, 60. “The name is now synonymous to me as someone who enslaves others. … I thought, ‘I would like to pursue things to where Magruder High School is renamed as soon as possible.’”

Simonson worked with other parents to collect signatures for a petition to the board of education. He couldn’t recall the exact number of people who signed but estimated it was “a couple hundred.” There is some opposition to a name change, Simonson said, but attempts to reach objectors were unsuccessful.

This D.C. school was named for a mayor and slave owner. Not anymore.

Magruder is the only school to initiate the renaming process, said Frances Frost, an assistant to the associate superintendent for well-being, learning and achievement. Since the process began, there’s been “opinions from all across the board on how and whether to do this,” she said.

Some people are adamant the school name needs to change, she continued. Others want to leave it alone because it’s a part of the county’s history. And there’s another group who are okay with a name change on the condition that it still starts with the letter “M.”

The report to the school board will share the results from the survey and listening sessions, Frost said. It will also include estimates for costs on a school renaming. It won’t include suggested new names.

The board of education has sole authority on whether it should drop the school’s name. If it chooses to do so, that would start a separate process to find a new name.

By Nicole AsburyNicole Asbury is a local reporter for The Washington Post covering education and K-12 schools in Maryland. Twitter