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Mr. Maxwell’s criticism of the leadership of Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) is long on history but gets the fundamental question wrong. True, Lord Fairfax was a man of his time and cannot be fairly judged by today’s standards. But LFCC is a product of our times — it was founded in 1970, not 1770. And it was founded to offer opportunity to young people who, unlike Lord Fairfax, were not born to wealth and power, but must make their own way in the world.
So the real question is not whether anyone is “cancelling” Lord Fairfax. Indeed, whatever happens to LFCC, the Fairfax name will continue to adorn numerous streets and institutions of Northern Virginia.
A community college’s name, however, should rightly offer inspiration to those who study there. In this respect, what would Lord Fairfax say to LFCC’s students if he were around today? Probably nothing. Born to privilege and political connections that he used to acquire titles to vast quantities of Virginian lands, Fairfax would have probably been bewildered by the idea of a publicly-supported college for ordinary folks. Sure, George Washington apparently thought well of him, but Fairfax was still an elitist through and through. Some inspiration for a community college.
Yes, such elitism was typical of the time among Virginia’s landed gentry. And, yes, Washington, Jefferson and Madison also owned slaves. But those three also made unique contributions to the concept of a radically new America, one built on the dream of democracy and equality of opportunity for all. Present-day America would not be the same without them. Lord Fairfax? Not so much.
Fairfax did of course leave an indelible mark on Northern Virginia. Given his extraordinary land holdings, it could not have been otherwise. Indeed, my 18th Century ancestor, Jacob Mueller, received a land grant from him to found the Shenandoah town of Muellerstadt in 1752. Never heard of Muellerstadt? That’s because a few years later, the good townspeople decided — horror of horrors — to change the name! And the town of Woodstock was born. So it turns out that even Lord Fairfax’s fellow Virginians were not adverse to changing names. Should we then accuse them of cancel culture? Or did they just desire a name that better reflected their aspirations?
In short, the question is simple: does this name best reflect our aspirations for a public institution of higher education today? One can wonder what the leadership of LFCC back in 1970 was thinking. If nothing else, it suggests a shortage of creative thinking (Yet another Fairfax name in Northern Virginia, folks? Is that really the best idea you could come up with?).
In fact, there are many, many people in our history whose lives can offer true inspiration to our students — and who do not yet have their names on dozens of public places. Choosing one as the face of our community college would make us richer as a community, not poorer. The leadership of LFCC, including Mr. Wenger, has made a thoughtful choice. We should support them.
Of course, Mr. Maxwell is certainly entitled to disagree and to continue his defense of Lord Fairfax. But we can have that discussion without accusing each other of cancel culture or otherwise questioning the motives of our neighbors — neighbors who volunteer their time and energy for the public benefit. The truth is, the sky is not going to fall in whether Lord Fairfax’s name stays on or is removed from the college masthead. The education itself is what matters. And how we talk to each other.
The writer lives in Amissville.