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San Francisco school board votes to rename schools

The San Francisco school board has voted to strike the names of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln from 44 of the district’s institutions, it was revealed Tuesday. 

The former presidents were among the historical figures deemed by the board members to have ties to racism in a 6-1 vote. 

The controversial move follows a wave of anti-racism protests that swept the country last summer in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, resulting in statues of Confederate leaders, in particular, being torn down. 

The decision in San Francisco resulted in anger from some policy makers, including Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who believe the school board should instead be concentrating on how to bring students back to in-person learning during the pandemic. 

The $400,000 price tag to replace the signage at all the schools was also criticized in light of the district’s budget deficit.   

George Washington

Abraham Lincoln

Former presidents George Washington, left, and Abraham Lincoln, right, were among the historical figures set to be removed as namesakes of San Francisco’s public schools 

The decision in San Francisco resulted in anger from some policy makers, including Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who believe the board shoudl be focused on reopening schools

The decision in San Francisco resulted in anger from some policy makers, including Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who believe the board shoudl be focused on reopening schools

The price could rise to more than $1million to include new uniforms and gymnasium floors. 

The school board had voted in 2018 to establish a task force to study the names of district schools and determine which ones would be replaced, as calls mounted to replace those of historicial figures tied to slavery  

The plans were moved forward in early 2020 after the Black Lives Matter protests erupted and the criteria expanded to include slave owners, colonizers, and those associated with genocide or oppression.   

Among the other names on the newly banned list are Francis Scott Key, who wrote the words to the national anthem; former presidents William McKinley, James Garfield, James Monroe and Herbert Hoover; Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere; and author Robert Louis Stevenson.

Even current senator Dianne Feinstein’s name did not escape the chopping block. 

Feinstein Elementary, which takes its name from senator, will be forced to change it’s name due to allegations she replaced a damaged Confederate flag outside of City Hall when she was mayor in 1984. 

The flag was part of an 18-banner historical display outside of City Hall and been there for 14 years before she took office.

The San Francisco native refused to replace the flag after it was taken down a second time by protesters and announced that the Confederate flag would never fly there again but it was not enough to save her from Tuesday’s list.  

Feinstein, the first female mayor of San Francisco and a lifelong Democrat, was the only living person whose name was noted for removal. 

Abrahan Lincoln High School. A San Francisco school names advisory committee recommended to remove Abraham Lincoln's name from the school for the 16th President's past treatment of Native Americans

Abrahan Lincoln High School. A San Francisco school names advisory committee recommended to remove Abraham Lincoln’s name from the school for the 16th President’s past treatment of Native Americans

Feinstein Elementary, which takes its name from current U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (pictured above), is set to undergo a change due to an incident with a Confederate flag in 1986

Feinstein Elementary, which takes its name from current U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (pictured above), is set to undergo a change due to an incident with a Confederate flag in 1986

After the decision was announced Tuesday, critics attacked the board for spending all their time at the meeting discussing renaming the schools and failing to mention the need to reopen schools following the coronavirus shutdowns. 

‘It’s offensive to our kids who are staring at screens day after day instead of learning and growing with their classmates and friends,’ Mayor London Breed said, according to a report in Courthouse News. 

US Senator for Arkansas Tom Cotton also blasted the decision in a tweet, stating: ‘San Francisco can’t figure out how to safely open schools. But they have the time and energy to cancel Abraham Lincoln.’

Others said the appropriateness of school names did not put the figures into historical context and the research process had involved using Wikipedia to back up claims. 

In the case of Roosevelt Middle School, it wasn’t clear if the board knew which former President Roosevelt it was named for, but decided to have it removed anyway  

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, Confederate figures and leaders were the main focus, yet anti-racism activists also began to scrutinize other presidents such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley, and James Garfield. 

Of the names on the list, Presidents Washington and Jefferson’s status as slave owners made them subjects of controversy.  

Lincoln often expressed that slavery was morally wrong, although critics claim his administration was detrimental to Native Americans. 

Feinstein replaced a damaged Confederate flag outside of City Hall while she was San Francisco city mayor. Dianne Feinstein Elementary is pictured above

Feinstein replaced a damaged Confederate flag outside of City Hall while she was San Francisco city mayor. Dianne Feinstein Elementary is pictured above 

Board member Kevine Boggess, who supported the resolution, said: ‘I think we need to examine our naming policies across the district and really consider how the way we go about naming schools reflects our true values.’ 

Yet, the decision was criticized on Twitter, with some people saying it was taking ‘cancel culture’ too far. 

‘Cancel culture run amok!!’ One person remarked. 

‘Mark my words…this thinking will haunt us,’ another commented.  

‘This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. SF School Board is incompetent,’ said another. 

ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S RACIAL LEGACY

Lincoln was born in 1809 in Kentucky

He was president from 1861-65

He was shot dead in April 1865 in DC  

In 1854 in Peoria, Illinois, he declared his opposition to slavery, saying: ‘My ancient faith teaches me that ‘all men are created equal’; and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.’ 

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the country moved into the third year of the Civil War. 

Lincoln’s proclamation had declared ‘that all persons held as slaves’ within the rebellious states ‘are, and henceforward shall be free.’ 

***  

In 1852 Lincoln said he rejected ‘both extremes’ on the slavery debate. 

Lincoln said in 1858 he was against racial equality: ‘There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.’

In 1862 Lincoln told black leaders during a visit to the White House that they were to blame for the Civil War, saying: ‘But for your presence amongst us, there would be no war.’ 

Lincoln told journalist Horace Greeley his priority was saving the union, saying: ‘If I could save the union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.’

Frederick Douglass in 1876 said Lincoln was ‘preeminently the white man’s president, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men’. Douglass continued: ‘He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country.’


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bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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