San Francisco to remove Washington, Lincoln and Feinstein from school names

The names of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and others, including California Senator Dianne Feinstein, will be withdrawn from 44 public schools in San Francisco, a move that sparked debate Wednesday over whether the famous city liberal has taken the national account of America’s racist past too far. .

The decision by the San Francisco Board of Education in a 6-1 vote Tuesday night affects a third of the city’s schools and came nearly three years after the board began to consider the idea. The approved resolution calls for the removal of names that honor historical figures with direct or extensive links to slavery, oppression, racism or the “submission” of human beings.

Besides Mr. Washington and Thomas Jefferson – former presidents who owned slaves – the list includes naturalist John Muir, Spanish priest Junipero Serra, patriot of the American Revolution Paul Revere and Francis Scott Key, composer of the “Star Spangled Banner” .

Changing the name of Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, named after the Democratic senator and former mayor of San Francisco, has raised eyebrows. The 87-year-old pioneer star has faded in recent years, with dismayed Liberals joining calls for his retirement last year after kissing Republican Senator Lindsey Graham at the end of the judge’s stormy confirmation hearings. US Supreme Court Amy Coney Barrett.

Feinstein spokesman Tom Mentzer said the senator had no comment.

The committee that selected the names included Feinstein on the list because as mayor in 1984 she replaced a vandalized Confederate flag that was part of a long-standing flag display outside City Hall. When the flag was lowered a second time, she did not replace it.

“I want to make sure that in no way cancels or erases the story,” said San Francisco Board of Education chairperson Gabriela Lopez, specifically commenting on Feinstein and the group as a whole. “But that doesn’t change to support and honor them, and these opportunities are a great way to have this conversation about our past and have the opportunity to raise new voices.”

Lopez said the decision is timely and important and sends a strong message that goes beyond slavery-related racism and more broadly condemns “the racist symbols and culture of white supremacy that we see in our country.”

For some parents in San Francisco, the brush stroke was too broad.

“It’s kind of a joke. It’s almost like a travesty of left-wing activism,” said Gerald Kanapathy, a father of two young children, including a kindergarten at a San Francisco school not listed. on the list.

“I’m not particularly concerned about the idea that some of the schools need to be renamed. There are a lot of questionable choices there,” he said. “But they sort of decided on it and put it through without much community involvement.”

Names of schools in San Francisco
A pedestrian walks under a sign for Dianne Feinstein Elementary School in San Francisco on December 17, 2020.

Jeff Chiu / AP

A group called Families for San Francisco opposed the vote for similar reasons, calling it a “top-down process” in which a small group of people made the decision without consulting experts and the wider school community.

“We think it’s very important for the community as a whole to get involved in determining who should be honored with names of public schools,” said Seeyew Mo, executive director of the group.

“We would like to have historical experts to provide historical context as we assess people of the past with today’s sensibilities,” he said.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who is black, called the move poorly timed given the coronavirus pandemic that has kept schools in the city closed since March.

“Our students are suffering, and we should be talking about getting them into classrooms, providing them with mental health support and providing them with the resources they need during this difficult time,” Breed said, adding that she supported the discussion on renaming schools, but felt it should include parents, students and others and take place when classrooms reopen.

The name change process was spearheaded by a committee formed in 2018 to study the names of district schools amid a nationwide assessment of racial injustice that followed a deadly clash at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The committee was asked to identify schools named after people who owned slaves or had ties to slavery, colonization, exploitation of workers or others, and anyone who oppressed women, children , queer or transgender people. They also sought to change the name of schools that honored anyone with a connection to human rights or environmental abuse or espousing racist or white supremacist beliefs.

Lopez said schools have until April to suggest new names, which the board will vote on, and that the name change “could take a few years.”

Historian Harold Holzer has warned of what he called “a danger of excess” if the country reverts a wrecking ball to its past.

“I think there is a danger in applying the moral standards of the 21st century to historical figures of a century or two ago,” he said. “We expect everyone to be perfect. We expect everyone to be enlightened. But an enlightened person from 1865 is not the same as an enlightened person from 2021.”

Holzer disagrees with the name change of Abraham Lincoln High School, which the San Francisco committee said was due to the treatment of Native Americans during its administration.

In the midst of the Civil War in 1863, Mr. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves of Confederation.

“No one deserves more credit for the destruction of slavery,” said Holzer, a Lincoln scholar and director of the Roosevelt House of Public Policy Institute at Hunter College. “Lincoln is much more liberating than he is an aggressor on the subject of racial justice.”

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