The San Francisco Board of Education on Tuesday capped two years of research over whose names should be erased from the city’s public schools, voting to ban 44 names, including Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.
A school board committee had developed a set of rules to determine who should be forgotten by future generations, according to the Courthouse News Service.
Those to be banned would have been anyone involved in the colonization of indigenous people; slave owners; perpetuators of slavery or genocide; bosses who exploited their workers; anyone who oppressed or abused women, children or the LGBT population; anyone who could be lined to human rights or environmental abuses; and “known racists and/or white supremacists” or anyone who supported those beliefs.
San Francisco school board votes to strip names of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Abraham Lincoln from their schools. (Also Roosevelt, Paul Revere, Francis Scott Key, Robert Louis Stevenson, Daniel Webster, among list of 44) https://t.co/DVLm5JiJuo pic.twitter.com/H9BOTowsWk
— Lynn Becker (@LynnBecker) January 27, 2021
The 6-1 board decision to move forward with the re-naming was attacked by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, according to The New York Times. Announcement of the naming decision coincided with an announcement that the city has no plan to re-open schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Let’s bring the same urgency and focus on getting our kids back in the classroom, and then we can have that longer conversation about the future of school names,” Breed said.
The editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that members of the city’s board of education had “largely quit the education business and rebranded themselves as amateur historians.”
Replacing signage for schools will cost approximately $440,000, Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh said Tuesday, according to the Courthouse News Service.
The Times reported that estimates for changing signage, paperwork and websites for the 44 schools go into the millions.
Suggestions for new school names are due on April 19.
A spreadsheet documented why some names were being consigned to oblivion.
Daniel Webster is to be removed, it said, because he was a “Politician- Wrote stringent ‘fugitive’ slave laws.”
Naturalist John Muir is attacked as “Racist and responsible for theft of Native lands.”
Thomas Jefferson and Francis Scott Key are dismissed as slave owners. George Washington is indicted as a slave owner and colonizer. Paul Revere “served as commander of land artillery in the disastrous Penobscot Expedition of 1779, this is directly connected to the colonization of the Penobscot.”
“Abraham Lincoln is not seen as much of a hero at all among many American Indian Nations and Native peoples of the United States, as the majority of his policies proved to be detrimental to them,” the spreadsheet said, citing the Homestead Act and the Pacific Railway Act.
The panel also blamed Lincoln for the tragic 1863 “Long Walk” of the Navajo and for the 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux, which came after Lincoln commuted the sentences of the more than 300 Native Americans who Minnesota officials had wanted to hang after the Sioux uprising of 1862.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein also was among the banned due to a controversy over the replacement of a Confederate flag in 1984 when she was the city’s mayor, plus the fact that she was against same-sex “partnership/marriage.”
Dr. Adam Davis, a pediatrician who has two children, said the school renaming decision “is a caricature of what people think liberals in San Francisco do.”
“I don’t know anybody personally who doesn’t think it’s embarrassing,” he told the Times.
Others were staunchly in support of the board.
Brandee Marckmann is the parent of a child at Sutro Elementary School, which is being renamed.
“On the Fourth of July in 1897, John Harris, a 38-year-old African American waiter, was denied entry to the Sutro Baths swimming complex, which held jim crow policies. Harris sued Adolph Sutro—namesake and benefactor of the Baths, mayor of San Francisco, and one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the city—based on racial discrimination under the Dibble Civil Rights Act, California’s pioneering civil rights law. And Harris won,” the spreadsheet explaining the naming decisions said.
“I think it’s a real sign that we live in such a racist country that we have so many of our schools named after people who committed atrocities against Black and Indigenous people,” Marckmann told the Times.
Keeping the names is justified “only when you center whiteness,” she said.
Johann Neem, a history professor at Western Washington University, said honoring leaders has never meant they were perfect.
“When we commemorate figures from our past, we do so for many reasons. Usually, it’s not because they were perfect in their time or ours, since none of us are,” Neem told the Courthouse News Service.
“It’s because they have made a significant contribution to our collective public good, something that earns people like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln a place in our pantheon.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.