June 30, 2023

Rep. Watson Coleman Introduces Renaming the National School Lunch Program Act

Bill would rename the school lunch program for Jean Fairfax who helped overhaul the program to more fairly serve children from low income families.

Washington, DC (June 30, 2023) - Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Congressman Al Green (TX-09) introduced the Renaming the National School Lunch Program Act. This bill would rename the National School Lunch Act (NSLA) after Jean E. Fairfax, a civil rights icon who played an instrumental role in the integration of public schools in the South and helped overhaul the National School Lunch Program to serve poor children more fairly.

Jean E. Fairfax created and led the Committee on School Lunch Participation—a coalition of 5 national organizations whose combined constituencies totaled over 30 million women. The Committee studied the operations of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in 40 school districts nationwide and conducted over 1,500 interviews among officials in the Department of Agriculture and state, school, and community stakeholders. The results from this study were compiled in the 1968 report, titled Their Daily Bread. Testifying before Congress on multiple occasions to present the findings of their report, Fairfax and other committee members were instrumental in making the NSLP more inclusive. The report helped prompt Congress to establish the Special Food Service Program for Children, which became the Child Care Food Service Program and the Summer Food Service Program. The Committee’s work also persuaded President Nixon to increase funding for the National School Lunch Program serving children in areas of concentrated poverty.

“Jean Fairfax was a soldier in the battle for the rights of poor and minority children to gain the resources they needed to acquire a quality education,” said Watson Coleman. “The success of the National School Lunch Program in feeding 30 million children every school day is a product of her tireless efforts.”

“I am honored to co-lead Rep. Watson Coleman’s bill to rename the National School Lunch Program and am equally honored to have Rep. Watson Coleman co-lead my bill H.R.3747, which would also rename the lunch program. Upon passage of the bill we have introduced today, there will be no need to pass H.R.3747,” said Green. "At a time when the rights of minority and disadvantaged children were being systematically overlooked, Ms. Jean E. Fairfax raised her voice, shed light on the disparities, and worked tirelessly for change. These bills do more than just recognize her efforts, they repudiate the segregationist beliefs of Richard B. Russell, Jr., and signal our commitment to equal rights and opportunities for our children.”

“Renaming the National School Lunch Act sends a crucial message to the country and to our community that the efforts of segregationists and white supremacists are not to be celebrated,” said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. “Instead, by renaming the Act after Jean E. Fairfax, an educator, and civil rights leader, we honor the hard work of those who fought tirelessly to make our systems more equitable and inclusive.”

Richard B. Russell, Jr, for whom the law is currently named, was an ardent supporter of white supremacy and segregation, infamously filibustered civil rights legislation, and co-authored the Southern Manifesto. These harmful beliefs inevitably seeped into the architecture of the National School Lunch Act, for which he was the lead sponsor. It is even evidenced that he dismissed the concerns of child-welfare advocates, civil rights activists, and women-led organizations during debate over the implementation of the National School Lunch Program.

“Jean believed that America could be a nation for us all,” said Robbin Coulon, Esq., Trustee of the Fairfax Charitable Trusts and close personal friend of the Fairfax family. “She was a visionary, a prolific policy strategist, and a fearless advocate for advancing educational equity. Everything Jean achieved in her life has had a profound and lasting impact, but she was most proud of her work in education and on behalf of women, the working-class, and poor families. Jean is truly an unsung civil rights icon who would be so proud to be honored in this way.”

Cosponsors of the Renaming the National School Lunch Program Act include Al Green (TX-09), James E. Clyburn (SC-06), Jasmine Crockett (TX-30), Jennifer McClellan (VA-04), Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Alma Adams (NC-12), Shontel M. Brown (OH-11), Gregory W. Meeks (NY-05), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Marc Veasey (MO-33), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Jonathan L. Jackson (IL-01), Stacey E. Plaskett (Virgin Islands), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Adam Smith (WA-09), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Andre Carson (IN-07), Bennie Thompson (MS-02), Nanette Diaz Barragan (CA-44), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC at-large), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Shri Thanedar (MI-13), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (FL-20), Jill Tokuda (HI-02), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Sara Jacobs (CA-51) and Greg Stanton (AZ-04).

The Renaming the National School Lunch Program Act can be read here.