Renaming Our School


Consider some history about our school and about schools in Northern Virginia since John Mosby's time. All of the FCPS schools recently renamed were originally named during the Massive Resistance, Virginia's opposition to desegregation of the 1950s-1970s (see more below). While the name changes of the late 2010s and early 2020s have often been the culmination of years of discussion, the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 arguably helped to move the needle toward changing school names.


Question to consider: What will the new name mean to our school community? Will it be a direct refutation of Mosby's Raiders' legacy? What will we learn from the process?


Have something relevant to add to this timeline? Email with suggestions.


19th Century

Let's rewind to 1863, when John Mosby and his Raiders began their partisan fighting in Northern Virginia.


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In March 1863, John Mosby, along with 29 men he had gathered, raided the Fairfax Court House and captured Union Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton.


In June 1863 in Fauqier County, Virginia, John Mosby started the 43rd Batallion, Virginia Cavalry, with permission from General Robert E. Lee. Because his was a partisan group, Mosby preferred to call his men "rangers" or "raiders" rather than use military terms like "batallion" or "cavalry."


By June 1864, Mosby commanded six companies, or a total of about 400 men, who lived and hid throughout Virginia communities from Fairfax to the Shenandoah Valley. As partisan rangers, smaller groups were able to attack in concentrated numbers, then quickly disperse to private homes to hide and live as private citizens. In Fauquier County, where Mosby was headquartered, private citizens were easily recruited to join the gangs of raiders.


In January 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment or legal abolition of slavery was passed by the U.S. Congress and then ratified in December of the same year. (Watch the documentary 13th, free on YouTube, for further exploration of the legacy of the Thirteenth Amendment.)


In March 1865, the U.S. Congress formed the Freedmen's Bureau in order to help formerly enslaved people transition into society.


In April 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox, Virginia. Because Mosby's Raiders were not an official military outfit, they never surrendered but technically disbanded in a private ceremony in Fauquier County.



Because the community had been so intimately involved in Mosby's partisan warfare, the spirit of partisan warfare did not leave Fauquier but continued in earnest. In essence, although Mosby's Raiders technically disbanded, its members stayed, and Mosby's legacy ("Mosby's Confederacy") endured for many years in the area. Indeed it endured in some form for at least a century, long enough to become the namesake of a neighborhood and a school in a neighboring county.



Mosby himself remained in Fauquier County until the 1870s, practicing law, having been pardoned by Ulysses S. Grant, who had become a personal friend.


Throughout 1865, white partisan violence against Black people in Fauquier County increased. Black members of the county organized and applied for a Freedmen's school, as schools for Black children were commonly called.


In January 1866, Virginia passed its Vagrancy Act, also known as part of the Black Codes, restrictive laws intended to inhibit Black residents' full transition into equal society.


In February and March 1866, after the first Freedmen's school was established in Fauquier, the schoolteacher (a white woman from Boston) and the Black schoolchildren were regularly harassed and attacked with rocks by white partisans, to the point that federal troops came in to keep the peace.


Also in early 1866, another schoolteacher at another Freedmen's school in Fauquier County reported threats, intimidation, and physical violence from white members of the community.


Later in 1866, further violence against Black citizens and against Freedmen's schools was reported to the Freedmen's Bureau.


By December 1867, according to Freedmen's Bureau records, a division of the Ku Klux Klan had been organized in Fauquier to harass and threaten Black residents.


In April of 1868, Freedmen's Bureau records note "an organization known as the Klu Klux Klan composed of young men generally, and who go about this place at midnight disturbing the colored people and committing outrages upon them."



"The nature of guerilla warfare [in Mosby's confederacy] had engendered a unique guerilla mindset in Fauquier's white community; this mentality survived the war and significantly shaped their postwar social world."

Zeggil, The Nature of Guerilla Warfare




The Nature of Guerilla Warfare in the Heart of Mosby's Confederacy: Reconstruction in Fauquier County, Virginia by Brett D. Zeggil, Clemson University, 2015

John Singleton Mosby in Encyclopedia Virginia

John Mosby in HistoryNet

Ku Klux Klan in Virginia in Encyclopedia Virginia

Ku Klux Klan in Southern Poverty Law Center


20th Century

Although the years between Reconstruction and the advent of the Civil Rights Movement are very relevant to the history of segregation in Northern Virginia (see the article Jim Crow to Civil Rights in Virginia for more details), to keep it brief we'll fast-forward to 1954, when school segregation was ruled federally unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court.


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In May 1954, Brown v. Board of Education (which combined lawsuits against school boards in Kansas, Delaware, South Carolina, Washington DC, and Prince Edward County, Virginia) ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional.


Five months later, in September 1954, Luther Jackson High School opened as the first high school for Black students in Fairfax County.


In August 1956, the Virginia state government adopted the policy of Massive Resistance, intended to block desegregation of public schools, championed by Senator Harry F. Byrd, and embraced throughout other Southern states as a move for "states' rights" and against all desegregation. Massive Resistance continued into the early 1970s.



Was naming Virginia schools after Confederate figures during the 1950s and 1960s an intentional part of the Massive Resistance? There is strong evidence that at the very least it was reflective of the local culture at the time, which revered the "Rebels" of the Confederacy who advocated for "states' rights" in the Civil War, and in the case of the partisan rangers of Fauquier County, had also terrorized Black schoolchildren in the ensuing years. See also "How I Learned about the Cult of the Lost Cause."



In 1960, after a lawsuit by several Black families against the Fairfax County School Board including W.T. Woodson, superintendent and segregationist (also the namesake of an FCPS school, which is not currently slated to be renamed), Fairfax County Public Schools began the process of integration, which would take about another decade to complete in Northern Virginia (you might remember the Titans of T.C. Williams High School--another mid-century (1965) NoVA area school soon to be officially renamed, this time by Alexandria City Schools).


In June 1961, the first plot of land for the Mosby Woods home development was officially dedicated in a kickoff ceremony led by Virgil Carrington Jones, a prolific John Mosby biographer, who placed a bronze plaque that read, "To the Gallant Gray Ghost - John Singleton Mosby." The home developer George Yeonas later recounted that his son had given him the idea to name the neighborhood after John Mosby after seeing a plaque dedicated to Mosby's Midnight Raid in Fairfax. One brochure for the neighborhood read: "Our pattern for Mosby Woods is to make it a model of good taste in community planning."


In September 1962, the Fairfax County School Board Superintendent requested a vote to authorize development of a school in the new Mosby Woods neighborhood. The school was ultimately placed in Fairfax County, not Fairfax City. (The neighborhood was split between Fairfax County and Fairfax City until the 1980s​.)


In December 1963, Mosby Woods School officially opened after having held its classes in overflow areas at Jermantown (now Providence) School for the first few months while construction was completed at Mosby Woods.


In May 1964, after Prince Edward County's public schools had been closed for five years as part of the Massive Resistance, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the county schools to reopen.


In July 1964, the Civil Rights Act was signed into federal law, allowing the U.S. Department of Education to threaten to take away federal funding from schools who refused to desegregate, including Northern Virginia schools.


In 1965, the Fairfax County School Board outlined plans to end the two segregated school systems. That year also marked the first school year that Luther Jackson High School was integrated and became a middle school.


For more on desegregation in Fairfax County Public Schools, see also:


Fairfax's Long Road to Integration in Connection Newspapers

Desegregation in Public Schools in Encyclopedia Virginia

The Long History of Fairfax County Public Schools in Public School Review

Fairfax County Public Schools in Wikipedia

Historic Records: Desegregation - primary sources about desegregation in Fairfax County, including letters, school board minutes, oral history, news reports, and court records, collected and transcribed by FCPS


21st Century


Although the years between the Civil Rights movement and the late 2010s/early 2020s are certainly relevant to the history of our school--and history shows that the school changed immensely in those 50+ years, growing in physical size, growing in numbers, and growing in all aspects of diversity--to keep it brief, we'll fast-forward to 2015.


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In December 2015, the Fairfax County School Board amended its school renaming policy to allow existing schools to be renamed "where some compelling need exists."


In October 2017, the Fairfax County School Board renamed J.E.B. Stuart High School (originally named in 1959) to Justice High School.


In November 2017, the Fairfax County School Board and Board of Supervisors adopted One Fairfax, a county-wide plan to advance equity and opportunity.


In June 2018, the Arlington School Board adopted an updated official school renaming policy, Policy F-6.1.


In January 2019, the Arlington School Board renamed Washington-Lee High School (originally named in 1925) to Washington-Liberty High School.


In September 2019, the Fairfax County School Board voted to adopt an updated official school renaming policy, Policy 8170, with eyes on six FCPS schools whose names have Confederate ties, including Mosby Woods. The most current version of Policy 8170 still allows name changes of existing schools but has eliminated the phrase "compelling need."


In June 2020, the Prince William County School Board renamed Stonewall Jackson High School (originally named in 1960) to Unity Reed High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School to Unity Braxton Middle School.


In June 2020, Fairfax High School leadership officially changed the school's mascot (originally selected in 1972) from Rebels to Lions and the street Rebel Run later became Lion Run.


In June 2020, the Fairfax County School Board voted to begin the process of renaming Mosby Woods Elementary School (originally named in 1963) with name options forthcoming.


In July 2020, the Fairfax County School Board renamed Robert E. Lee High School (originally named in 1958) to John R. Lewis High School.


In summer 2020, the Mosby Woods neighborhood in Fairfax City began official negotiations with the city to rename the neighborhood and its streets (which include names like Plantation, Confederate, Raider, and Ranger). The Mosby Woods swim team began to discuss renaming its mascot, the Raiders.


In November 2020, the City of Fairfax School Board (not to be confused with the Fairfax County School Board, a separate entity) renamed Sidney Lanier Middle School (originally named in 1960) to Katherine Johnson Middle School.


In February 2021, in accordance with Policy 8170, the Fairfax County School Board renamed Mosby Woods Elementary School (originally named in 1963) to Mosaic Elementary School.



Integrated Schools podcast


What does school segregation mean to you? Does it belong to the past, or is it still happening? Check out the podcast Integrated Schools, which examines the ways that schools are segregated in the 21st century--caused intentionally or unintentionally by gentrification, redlining, school choice, gifted programs, and more--and explores potential paths to integration. Trailer below is from an episode featuring Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia's 3rd district.


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