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Committee tasked to research the name of George Fox Middle School, at Anne Arundel school board’s request

As Confederate statues are brought down and the country revisits historical figures with troubling pasts, the Anne Arundel County school system has begun to do the same with George Fox Middle School in Pasadena.

In a prepared statement, school board member Julie Hummer motioned at Wednesday’s meeting that the Anne Arundel Board of Education request for a committee to review the history of the county’s first superintendent.

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Before the board voted on the committee, Hummer highlighted Fox’s history and said the school system should “teach our children that they all have worth and potential and value.”

In 1939, Walter Mills, a Black educator and later a principal at Parole Elementary School, sued the school system for unequal pay in comparison to white educators. Mills was represented by civil rights crusader, Thurgood Marshall.

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In court, Fox testified against Mills and said, “The worst white teacher is better than the best Black teacher,” Hummer read from her statement.

“It is time to reckon with our histories and acknowledge that people are imperfect. Imperfections can be forgiven, people can grow and change, but even with that lens of forgiveness, the name of a school may not be an appropriate tribute,” Hummer said.

The words of Fox’s denying Black educators equal pay rang unfair for county’s NAACP chapter President Jackie Allsup.

“How can you make that kind of statement? It’s obvious that he was unfair in his thoughts about Black and white people,” she said.

Allsup, who was born after Fox’s term as superintendent, recently turned to her sister and asked about her experience integrating at the school. She said her sister had to block out how she was treated at the school because it was so difficult.

“She said to me, ‘All I remember is that we had to fight every day and they called us the N-word all the time,‘ ” Allsup said.

The possible renaming of the school is a step but not enough, said Shelyia Brown. Recently, Brown has organized protests in the Pasadena area in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brown attended George Fox Middle and now the 20-year-old said there are other ways to support Black students.

“It’s a step but I don’t want people to think it is a huge step because when it comes to doing things for the greater good, especially toward or for the Black community, people feel like if they do the really small things that they’ve done their part.”

“That’s not doing your part. A name is a name but making these kids feel comfortable in school? That is doing a huge part,” Brown said.

She recommended the school system do annual questionnaires of teachers and administration from their students.

The committee will be made up of parents, students, community members and staff to research the name of George Fox Middle School and then make a recommendation to the school board, according to school spokesperson Bob Mosier.

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The board voted for a recommendation by March, and Superintendent George Arlotto is asking for the committee to conduct thorough research, Mosier said.

“He would like to have a recommendation by the committee sooner rather than later but he wants the committee job of looking into the life of Mr. Fox and the work of Mr. Fox — in addition to the comments that Mrs. Hummer referenced in her motion,” Mosier said.

When it comes to who will be part of the committee, people have begun to reach out to be involved but the overall committee will be diverse through multiple backgrounds like racial identity, ethnic identity, historical knowledge and academic knowledge, Mosier said.

Overall, this effort put forth by the school system is one that could be replicated in other parts of the county, said Carl Snowden, leader of the Caucus of African American Leaders.

“The reality is the vast majority of people have no idea who these persons were that buildings were named after,” Snowden said. “When you do research, it begins to be troubling when you realize what role they play — some in having very prominent roles in maintaining for example, racial segregation.”

The discussion of buildings and statues is not necessarily new to the county. Earlier this month, a confederate statue at a Lothian church was torn down and spray-painted. Church leaders said a conversation on removing the monument will be held.

Snowden pointed to that statue and the school system’s committee as an opportunity to talk about the names and figures memorialized in the county.

“What will be the criteria we use? So having a committee to be responsible with these issues is good and it probably will be a model for others,” he said.

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