Rachel Bowman, Daily Mail, November 27, 2023
Montgomery County Public Schools is looking to rename schools named after slave owners, and Francis Scott Key Middle School could be the next one up for debate.
Francis Scott Key, a Maryland native, was a poet and lawyer best know for writing the national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.
In 2019, Montgomery County Public Schools – the state’s largest school district – launched a review that found six schools in the county were named after slave owners.
According to MoCo360, the review found the schools named after slaver owners are: Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring; Francis Scott Key Middle School in Silver Spring; Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Derwood; Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville; John Poole Middle School in Poolesville and Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville.
A recent Fall 2023 report from Montgomery County’s Periodical for Historical Research added a seventh school to the list – Julius West Middle School.
In February, members of the Magruder High School community filed a petition to rename the school because the school’s namesake ‘does not meet the acceptable criteria for a school name,’ reported The Washington Post.
Magruder, a founding father of Montgomery County and Revolutionary War officer, reported he had 26 enslaved people on his property on the 1790 Census.
Since it received the petition, the school system sent out a survey to the community about renaming the school and hired the consulting group Coaction Collective to run forums where people shared their perspectives of the school’s name.
Mark Simonson, who is white and a parent of a junior at Magruder High said, ‘It was just one of those things that really resonated with me. 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.”‘
The last time the county renamed a school was in 2021 when Col. E Brooke Lee Middle School was renamed to Odessa Shannon Middle School after the first Black woman elected to public office in Montgomery County.
The process for that began in 2019 when then-County Council President Nancy Navarro brought up concerns over the namesake.
At the time of the initial 2019 report there were 207 public schools in the county, 51 were named after people. For the 2022-2023 school year, there are 211 schools.
In 2022, the board of education instated a new school naming policy that includes criteria for naming a building after a person.
The person must be deceased and made a demonstrated contribution to the community, county, state or nation.
Key served in the War of 1812 and wrote The Star Spangled Banner witnessing the twenty-five hour bombardment of Fort McHenry.
The National Park Service reported that Francis Scott Key had a conflicted relationship with slavery and as an attorney believed ‘by the law of nature all men are free. The presumption that even Black men and Africans are slaves is not a universal presumption.’
However, his family owned slaves at the time of his birth and it is believed Key purchased his first enslaved person around 1800 and by 1820 he owned six enslaved people.
It is reported that Key freed several of his slaves, including two boys named Joe and John, who were two years and six months of age – but it is speculated the decision was motivated by profit.
Key has many other memorials in his honor including the Key Bridge connecting Washington, D.C. to Virginia, the Francis Scott Key Monument in Baltimore and several other schools across the country.