Thank you for publishing Wyatt Massey’s piece on April 22. It’s long past time for Frederick County Public Schools to take seriously the message they send to students who attend Governor Thomas Johnson Middle School and Governor Thomas Johnson High School. When we name schools for an individual, we honor that individual and hold him up as a role model for young people. Governor Thomas Johnson enslaved African Americans and stole their labor for his own enrichment. At Rose Hill, the land where these two schools now stand, dozens of school-aged children were enslaved over time. Evidence connected with Rose Hill strongly suggests that many of those children were sold away in the 1830s, at the height of the interstate slave trade, when vast numbers of black Marylanders were sold to the Deep South. (Specifically, Johnson’s daughter and son-in-law held eleven children under age ten in slavery in 1830, and none of those children were recorded in the estate inventory three years later.)
At TJ Middle and High Schools, Thomas Johnson’s name and initials are everywhere — for example, student athletes wear his initials on their uniforms. What message does this name send to students of color, some of whose ancestors may have been forced to work in Thomas Johnson’s fields? What message does it send to white students? This is not some dead issue. Although slavery ended in Maryland in 1864, its legacy is with us every day in structural and institutionalized racism. To stop honoring a slaveholder in a specific way is not to change or forget history; on the contrary, it is to express a fuller understanding of history. We should recognize that the unusual honor of having one’s name on a school is not appropriate for Thomas Johnson.
Dr. Emilie Amt