While he was campaigning in Virginia before their primary, Barack Obama stopped at T.C. Williams High School for a town hall meeting. This is where the real-life story that inspired Remember the Titans took place: a Denzel Special where a football team helps integrate the school heal the racial wounds — nay, souls— of a team and its town by winning a championship in 1971.
Only one problem with the mythology around Williams High: ain’t none of that true.
The real T.C. Williams was racially integrated when it opened in 1965. But pushing back the year when integration came to Alexandria schools helps the movie’s storyline, since that jibes with the year the Titans won their first state football championship. And it’s a fine storyline: Obama said during the rally that the film makes “men cry.”
For all its fictions, the film has been quite good for the city and school where it is set—had there been no Remember the Titans, surely the Obama campaign wouldn’t have set its biggest rally in Northern Virginia on the T.C. Williams campus. Perhaps that’s why local and school officials never ask to correct the record when inaccurate histories of the school, ones that agree with Hollywood but not reality, are presented.
“It’s like people in the city don’t care about the truth anymore,” says Terry Greene. “Even people who were there act like they weren’t there, because of the movie.”
Greene, an Alexandria native, regards this revisionism as a crime, and not a victimless one. In 1963, he was among a small group of black students to enroll in George Washington High School. He played football for the school, also. He says the Hollywoodization of his hometown’s history ignores the real foot soldiers in the battle to desegregate the city’s schools and their athletic programs…
As in the movie, Alexandria had a wave of racial violence in the early 1970s. But that had nothing to do with the school or integration. In May 1970, John Hanna, a white manager at an Alexandria 7-Eleven, shot and killed an unarmed black George Washington student, Robin Gibson, during a dispute in the store. A historic carriage house in the city was torched days later, just one of many violent acts linked to the killing. During Hanna’s trial for manslaughter, the only black juror was dismissed after admitting he couldn’t give a white man a fair trial, and a dry-cleaning operation owned by a witness for the defense was firebombed after Hanna was given a two-year sentence.
Another thing the movie doesn’t tell viewers: The consolidation of three high schools, all of which were majority-white and integrated, into one school effectively tripled T.C. Williams’ enrollment of 11th- and 12th-graders. And though the racial makeup wasn’t changed radically, T.C. Williams became by far the biggest high school in Virginia, which meant it also had by far the biggest football talent pool in the state. The Washington Post didn’t mention integration when it predicted greatness for the team in its 1971 preseason poll, and nobody was surprised when the Titans crushed all opponents and won the state championship.
Black Revisionist History Month. [Washington City Paper]