RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Community members and Richmond Public Schools officials gathered outside of the newly christened Henry L. Marsh elementary school to celebrate at an opening ceremony on Saturday.

The school was previously named after George Mason, a founding father and slave owner from Northern Virginia. The school’s new namesake, Henry L. Marsh III was a civil rights lawyer and the first Black mayor of Richmond, later serving as a state senator for Petersburg.

“Senator Marsh was born in this neighborhood and attended George Mason Elementary as a child,” said Kimberly Cook, the school’s principal.

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras also attended the ceremony, and said the new name sent an important message, “The name change is about… us becoming an even more inclusive, equitable and just school system.”

(Photo: Timothy Corley/WRIC)

Marsh first attended school in a segregated, one-room schoolhouse, before his father moved the family to Richmond, where Marsh spent fifth grade at what was the George Mason Elementary School.

Marsh went on to fight racist employment discrimination across the state of Virginia, eventually running for city council in Richmond and becoming mayor in 1977.

Cook said she hoped Senator Marsh’s story could inspire future students, “Naming the school after him gives our students something to strive for.”

The school’s new name caps off a reconstruction process that saw the outdated George Mason Elementary replaced with a new building.

“Anyone who was at the old George Mason know it was quite frankly just a travesty to have kids going to school there,” Kamras said. “And this beautiful new school is modern and there’s lots of natural light and all the latest technology.”